If history is any guide, the New York Yankees are going to win the Wild Card Game against the Oakland Athletics because the Yankees always beat the Athletics in the postseason. Really, it seems as if there is nothing the Athletics can do to beat the Yankees.
Back in 2001, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson of the then famed Hudson, Mulder, and Zito went into Yankee Stadium, and they took a 2-0 lead back to Oakland. It was then Barry Zito‘s turn to send the Athletics into the ALCS.
Zito did everything he reasonably could do. Through eight innings, he allowed just one run on two hits. That one hit? A sixth inning Jorge Posada home run. It was a run in a tight game, but it was just a run. Then, it happened.
In the seventh inning, Terrence Long hit a double to right field, and Shane Spencer, who started the game because Paul O’Neill started the series going 0-for-7, made a terrible off-line throw home. An alert Derek Jeter vacated his position, ran into foul territory to get the ball, and flipped it to Posada, who tagged out the non-sliding Giambi.
The momentum of the series forever changed there. The energized Yankees thrashed Cory Lidle and Athletics 9-2 in Game 4 to force a deciding Game 5.
Even with the Athletics getting a 2-0 lead and knocking Roger Clemens out of the game early, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough with Mulder. Despite him being the American League wins leader who finished second in the Cy Young voting, Mulder couldn’t shut down the Yankees again.
Like that, a 102 win Athletics team, a team was eliminated from the postseason.
It’s not too different than the previous season. In a back-and-forth ALDS, and with the Athletics going home flying high after an 11-1 victory in Game 4, Gil Heredia allowed six runs in one-third of an inning. The ensuing rally would fall short, and the Yankees were on their way to the ALCS.
Heredia pitching in that spot was really the unfortunate result of the Athletics being in a dogfight for not just the division but also the Wild Card.
That isn’t the case this year. Both the Yankees and the Athletics have had plenty of time to set their team up best for this postseason run.
For the Yankees, they opted for Luis Severino over Masahiro Tanaka or J.A. Happ. The Athletics decided to make the bold move to go with an opener. That is a far departure from the Athletics teams who relied upon Hudson-Mulder-Zito.
Maybe this time will be different. The players have changed. Even the Yankees have changed their stadium. This will be the first time these two teams have played in a winner-take-all game in New York instead of Oakland.
Still, given the history between these two franchises, and with the Yankees winning all three of the postseason series between these two franchises (1981, 2000, 2001), it will be hard for some fans to believe the Athletics could ever beat the Yankees in the postseason.
Judging from last night and the history of Wild Card Games, it will be fun to find out if this will be the year.