Experience not a necessity
History has shown first-timers can top playoff vets in October
BOSTON -- Don't tell the Red Sox that experience is bliss when it comes to baseball's greatest stage. But don't try to tell them it didn't make a difference in their comeback to get here.
In that sense, Dustin Pedroia is Exhibit A.
The first-year second baseman has had to deal with championship expectations from Day 1 in the Major Leagues, which was barely more than a year ago, and he has handled them better than many would have expected. Yet even he couldn't have been completely prepared for the feeling he had as he readied for the start of the American League Division Series against the Angels.
"This is on the biggest stage," Pedroia said Sunday night after Boston's Game 7 win in the AL Championship Series. "Everyone is watching these games. I remember the Angels series, I was nervous. Alex Cora told me, 'Hey, settle down, be yourself, have fun. This game is meant to be played, have fun. Play as hard as you can and leave it out there on the field. If we lose, we lose. Don't have any regrets.'
"You know, ever since then I kind of went out there and I don't worry about anything but playing hard. I think everybody is doing that. Nobody cares about anything, just picking each other up and playing the game to win."
The Rockies certainly seem to have followed the same recipe to reach the World Series, where they'll meet the Red Sox in Game 1 on Wednesday night at Fenway Park. After reaching the playoffs in a tiebreaker victory over the Padres, the Rockies came in with only a handful of players with postseason experience. Heading into the World Series, only center fielder Willy Taveras can say he's been there before.
But, as shortstop Troy Tulowitzki will tell you, a lack of postseason experience hasn't equated to a lack of success for the Rockies, who have gone 7-0 through the first two rounds.
"We just gotta go out and have fun," the 23-year-old rising star said, adding that the experience factor can flip toward the newbies as well. "It might kinda benefit us. It's worked so far. Hopefully it will continue."
Eight Red Sox players remain from the team that exorcised the Curse of the Bambino in 2004. They generally won't compare this year's squad to that championship club, because so much has changed. It's a different style of play in some aspects, a different mix of players, and definitely a different vibe. Between Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon and Jacoby Ellsbury, there seems to be a younger energy.
Still, the veteran leadership clearly balances that out.
"It's huge," manager Terry Francona said. "We don't try to hide the fact that we count on our players a lot for their leadership, for how they know how to play the game. We have some guys that are very deserving of that. Guys like [Jason] Varitek and [Mike] Lowell, they were key. They do a very good job. They know what's expected of them, especially here, and we're very proud of that.
"I think that's a big reason why we're here where we are."
Will it be a big reason if they get where they want to go, back to hoisting the World Series trophy? That remains to be seen.
History suggests it's a mixed blessing. The simple fact that no team has repeated as World Series champions since the Yankees in 1998-2000 is something to consider, though plenty of other factors stand to reason for that level of parity. Even when teams with experienced postseason players get back to the World Series, it doesn't compensate for talent. The Braves' record run of 14 consecutive division titles and playoff berths amounted to just one World Series championship.
"For the most part, history has shown that [experience] can play a role," Colorado's Chris Iannetta said. "But teams have won World Series with virtually no postseason experience, like the Marlins in 1997, and the Yankees, with all their experience, have struggled the last few years. They have a ton of experience and have been losing. Ultimately, it'll come down to who plays well and executes the entire series."
The Red Sox are the third team since that Yankees three-peat to reach the World Series twice in a span of four years or less. The defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals had some key holdovers from their 2004 club that the Red Sox swept out of the Fall Classic in '04. That experience, they pointed out, came in handy because they knew what to prepare for -- not only on the field, but with the off-field rigors, from travel to tickets to mind-set.
But if experience was everything, the Yankees should've had the overwhelming edge when they returned to the Fall Classic in 2003, their sixth trip in eight years. Many of the Florida Marlins, by comparison, weren't even in professional baseball when the franchise won it all in 1997.
The younger Marlins fell behind, but they pulled it off. Their veteran manager, Jack McKeon, told them to have fun and relax. Their young ace, Josh Beckett, stood up and pitched them to the Series-clinching victory.
"I certainly think you learn a lot through failure and through succeeding," Beckett said before his first start of this postseason in the ALDS. "You know, as you get older, obviously, you're still learning. But I think you learn a lot of crucial things along the way. But I don't think anybody will ever consider their learning process completed in this game."
That's why Beckett didn't put much stock into taking anything from 2003.
"Nothing," he said at the time. "I've got to go out and execute pitches, just like I did in 2003."
There's another factor about younger teams at this stage; they're rarely expected to be there. Because of that, they come sometimes play loose without the pressure of expectations.
That goes for managers, too.
"I actually think in 2004, I was oblivious to a lot of the surroundings," Francona said, "and I think it made my job easier. After I saw what '04 did for people around here, I think it actually made '05 harder. We came back and won 95 games in '05, and it was the hardest 95 games I've seen. And I think I started feeling the responsibility of every game a lot more because I understood more, what it meant to people around here. I think it made it tougher."
In that, Colorado sees an opportunity. At the least, the Rockies see a silver lining.
"We don't have the experience, so we don't know any better," Colorado infielder Jamey Carroll put it. "So we'll keep playing the way we have been, keep having fun, and we'll see what happens. Bottom line is, you have to come out and play baseball, do the little things right."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.