As a disappointed, disheartened Yankees fan I’ve been there before. Though it pains me to say it, the better team won the right to go to the World Series.
Better because at this point in the six month baseball season, the Houston Astros, particularly with its pitching staff, fielded a healthier, more dominant, more opportunistic team.
When mostly everyone on the Yankees trying to hit a five-run home run it was virtually impossible to win a baseball game. For the benefit of the few who may not know, there is no such thing as a five-run home run in baseball. So it was no surprise the Yanks failed to win a single game in the American League Championship Series. Houston swept them 4-0.
Good teams cause their opponents to make mistakes. Better teams take advantage of those mistakes, as the Astros did in games three and four to score, after Yankee errors, the runs that gave them leads they did not relinquish.
Better teams deploy situational hitting to drive in runs, as Alex Bregman did with an opposite field single to drive in the winning run in game four Sunday night. In game one, the Yankees had second and third with only one out. But two strikeouts later by Justin Verlander of Josh Donaldson and Matt Carpenter stifled that threat. The Yanks struck out 17 times in that game; of their 108 outs in the series, 47 were strikeouts. By comparison, the Astros’ 102 outs included just 28 strikeouts.
There’s an old adage in baseball that good pitching beats good hitting. It doesn’t always work out that way, but in this just concluded competition good pitching was aided by a long-standing Yankee problem that reared its head several times during the season, the inability to string hits together or table set for the occasional home run shot. Solo home runs generally do not win ball games.
Oldster Yankees fans like me remember another disheartening sweep loss, in a World Series, no less. In 1963, when I was 14, New York faced the Los Angeles Dodgers for the first time since da Bums moved from Ebbets Field to Chavez Ravine in sunny Los Angeles.
The Bronx Bombers hosted the first two games. Instead of hitting home run bombs, the home team bottomed out. In the first game Sandy Koufax whiffed the first five Yankee batters he faced—Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, Tom Tresh, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Koufax fanned 15 over nine innings. The Dodgers won 5-2.
Los Angeles won the second game 4-1, the third game 1-0 behind Don Drysdale, and the clincher 2-1 behind Koufax’s eight strikeouts. The four runs the Yankees managed to score during the series was the lowest total of any World Series team at the time.
The final game of the 1963 series provided a striking example of the value of capitalizing on mistakes. With the score tied 1-1 in the seventh inning, Yankee third baseman Clete Boyer fielded a ground ball. He threw to first base. But first basemen Joe Pepitone lost the white ball in the sea of white shirts worn by the crowd in the seats along the third base line.
The throw hit him in the arm, rolled away down the right field line, allowing the batter, Junior Gilliam, to reach third base. He scored the final, winning run of the World Series on a sacrifice fly.