How about them underdog Yankees? Back in first, huh? Yeah, well, see, that’s what happens… There is something magical about the hungry underdog spirt, something about the chase as opposed to being chased.
Actually, there is a lot of something.
Interesting quote by Girardi, and very telling, too, “It’s a group that knows how to fight back and they’ve done that,” Girardi said. “I think our guys live for this time of the year. I think it’s what we focus on when we put our club together, is to get to this point and have an opportunity.”
That’s not just lip service. Managers really do want their teams to get hot at key times. The season is a marathon. If there was a switch and you really could turn it on—this time of year would be that time to do it. If any team has such a switch, it would be the Yankees.
But turning it on is a bit of a misnomer since it’s really more about turning things off. That is to say, turning off the tendency to tumble down the mental rabbit hole; turning off what it means to be in first place and to be chased; turning off the psychological roller coaster of the post-season push. Teams as good as the Yankees or Blue Jays aren’t good just because they have a surge of happy emotion and some montage music. They have to know how to carry themselves while in situations where one win or loss can mean the difference of a division title— it’s a higher stakes game.
Many players make it to the big leagues for the first time and flounder because they’ve spent so much effort fantasizing about their arrival that they’ve spent zero time thinking about how they’ll actually stay. They stall out, don’t show the best side of themselves, and inevitably lose their roster spot. You can do the same in the post season. You can be bad at handling success.
It’s much easier to envision yourself making it to the big leagues—or the post season—and how awesome it will feel when you get there. Chasing is offensive in nature. It’s galvanizing. It focuses you on a singular goal, whether real or imagined.
Being chased is defensive. It’s based on the concept that you could lose control of what you have. It can scatter your thoughts. It requires a different kind of psychological tempering to endure it, but, once you achieve it, being chased can be really fun (hint: you win all trash talking contests by default).
The only thing better is learning to ignore it all together and play like none of it is happening. God, that’s heavenly accomplishment.
In the long run, it’s good the Yankees are putting up a fight with the Jays now—if you’re a Jays’ fan. The Jays need pressure to keep them stoked and hot. They really do want to take the lead at the right time, pull ahead, and put the clock on their side before a contender or apathy runs them down or cools them off.
If you’re a Yankees fan, you want your Yanks to keep being cool and sterile about this time of year. They know how to win, they just need to keep doing it.
As for teams built for the post season, well, we already know certain mental makeups get you paid well in he Bigs. For example, older players with leadership and team building experience get contracts just because the consensus is they can help foster positive group dynamics. Same goes for players with post season experience and a history of big game success. Those intangibles may not be useful for most of the year, but, when the right scenario pops up and a younger player needs a role model to look to, such experience can be invaluable.
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