Is a Red Sox victory a fait accompli?
October 19, 2008 4 Comments
I write this on the morning before Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS. Already, it seems that people are gearing up for a Red Sox-Phillies World Series where just a few days ago, during the telecast of Game 5 (the part where the Rays were up 7-0 in the seventh inning), the announcers not only were talking about how the Rays matched up with the Phillies, but were writing the Red Sox obituary of guys like Jason Varitek. How quickly things change.
The story line going into tonight’s Game 7 will be that the Rays are playing in a state of shock. They had the series in hand and somehow bumbled and fumbled it away. We’re sure to hear about a “lack of confidence” going in, and how that will doom the Rays to “play tight.” And should they lose, there’s your explanation right there. The Rays were simply destiny’s darlings too long. Unless of course they win. In that case, the Rays probably got an inspirational speech from Joe Maddon (or perhaps John Madden) who advised them to “take it one pitch/inning/game at a time,” set them at ease, and sent them out there “all trusting in each other.” Carl Crawford plays better when he knows that Akinori Iwamura has positive vibes toward him.
But then, Rays fans(?) and even those of us who are neutral but love the
Devil Rays as a storyline are probably right now feeling a bit despairing and snakebit. It seems that the Red Sox are doing it yet again. Game 7 itself is just a formality. The Red Sox always do this. Surely, the players must be feeling the same thing, and that this will affect their performance. The Red Sox on the other side must feel unstoppable and surely, it’s because they just have that ability to crank it up a notch in the clutch. (There’s a required David Ortiz reference here.)
It doesn’t matter what happens tonight. It will all be chalked up to some grand design of the universe. Here’s the thing though. All of the statements concerning the emotionality of it are a little overblown. I have no doubt that some of those thoughts are running through the heads of the players who will take the field tonight. Before going off and assuming that these will be the deciding factors, consider for a moment a few lessons from the psychology of crisis. Game Seven is always a crisis point. Not so much in the sense of a natural disaster being a crisis, but in the sense of a momentous and uncertain occasion. What you do in the next three hours determines whether you will be going to the World Series of Baseball or the World Series of Poker next month.
In a crisis situation, most people are amazed to find that they are able to do whatever needs to be done and with what clarity they are able to do it with. They usually don’t get the paralyzing emotional effects that everyone assumes happens until after the crisis has passed and they are looking back on things. After the umpire screams the last two words in the National Anthem (“Play ball!”), it’s likely that the players will do what they always do, and that’s focus on the game. Whatever speeches are given or whatever clutch hits are gotten, they make for great highlights on Baseball Tonight, but before practicing psychology without a license and blaming tonight’s goat for not having the mental capacity to come through in the clutch, and praising the hero for having some sort of magical powers that endow him with powers beyond those of mortal men, remember that a crisis isn’t really all that hard to handle in the moment.