New year, same old Yankees.
Heading into the postseason each year, people talk about the weaknesses of the New York Yankees. For 10 straight years now, they have reached the postseason. But since 1998 -- when they won 114 regular-season games -- they haven't always been viewed as baseball's best team when the playoffs began.
Then, in the postseason, they perform like champions.
Their 2002 ALDS loss was an exception, and they don't always win the world championship, but the Yankees have reached six of the past eight World Series, winning four.
This year, it appeared that Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez gave the Boston Red Sox the edge against anybody in the Yankees' rotation. Well, Mike Mussina and Jon Lieber pitched better than Boston's two aces.
In the next tier of these rotations, New York's Game 3 starter, Kevin Brown, is better than the rest of Boston's staff.
So now the edge goes to the Yankees -- and they've already beaten the odds by beating both Schilling and Martinez.
Bright Spot for Boston: Fenway
The forecast doesn't look good for Boston. I don't see how the Red Sox can win the series unless they win all three games at Fenway and then steal Game 6 or 7 in New York.
Having said that, the Red Sox do have at least one advantage now: Fenway Park. Also, Game 3 starter Bronson Arroyo has pitched well at times against the Yankees. Boston's hitters respond better in their own ballpark. This season, the Red Sox hit .304 at Fenway but just .260 on the road.
That's another reason why home-field advantage is so important to the Yankees. If Games 1 and 2 had been played in Boston, the results easily could have been different. But the Yankees again earned the right to play the first two games at home. New York has won the AL East for seven straight years, with Boston finishing second each time.
For the Yankees, home-field advantage goes beyond having the last at-bat and the home crowd.
The Yankees make sure they play the highlights of their storied history while the other team takes batting practice. As the other team's hitters take BP, they see (on the big scoreboard screen) Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson and Co. ... all entwined with the legacy of the 26 world championships.
The Yankees show this highlight video every time the other team takes BP. I don't think it had an effect on Pedro before Game 2, but it affects some players. It's the marketing of the Yankees -- and they have a lot to market. They have a lot to work with. No other professional sports franchise has that history.
Lieber: Postseason Surprise
Lieber shut down Boston's powerful lineup in New York's 3-1 victory in Game 2. I thought the Red Sox, like the St. Louis Cardinals, could handle good pitching. But that hasn't happened, especially at Yankee Stadium.
Lieber had the Red Sox totally off-balance. Boston's hitters didn't hit the ball solidly off him -- there was lots of contact off the end of the bat and off the handle.
I don't think anybody -- Joe Torre included -- saw Lieber's postseason success coming (1-0, 2.63 ERA in two starts). If anyone said they saw it coming, I'd have to question them. Lieber was solid this season (14-8, 4.33) after arm surgery caused him to miss the entire 2003 season, but he had never pitched in the playoffs before.
In fact, if the Yankees had other choices, Lieber wouldn't have started either in the ALDS vs. the Minnesota Twins or in ALCS Game 2.
Remember, Orlando Hernandez has been sidelined since Oct. 1 with what has been described as a tired arm. El Duque is feeling better now and is scheduled to start Game 4 at Fenway Park.
In Game 2, Pedro made lots of great pitches to match Lieber -- knee-high away, knee-high inside -- but the Yankees are experts at taking those pitcher's pitches. Many Yankee batters went to two-strike counts because Pedro made a great pitch. Rather than hitting a weak ground ball, they'd take the pitch and wait for a better one.
New York's hitters have shown more savvy and a more experienced approach than Boston's hitters. As the series continues, watch to see if this trend continues.
Before making the mistake on John Olerud's two-run homer, Pedro made four nearly perfect pitches. Two were called strikes -- fastballs knee-high on the outside corner -- and two were changeups that were called balls, just low. But Olerud laid off each one.
Pedro tried to go away again with his next pitch, but he missed his location and left the ball up and in. If Olerud had swung at any of the previous pitches, his at-bat probably would have resulted in an out.
That at-bat was a microcosm of what the Yankees are all about in the postseason -- and this from the newest Yankee.
Big Money, Smart Decisions
It's amazing that Olerud was available on waivers after being released by the Seattle Mariners this season, but no other team picked him up.
Some people complain about all the money the Yankees spend and their big acquisitions from last offseason, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. And it's true, we all know the Yankees have the biggest payroll in baseball -- $183 million, far more than Boston's second-highest payroll of $125 million.
But the Yankees won Game 2 not because of A-Rod or Sheffield but because of Olerud, the waiver pickup, and Lieber, who was given a chance by the Yankees before last season despite his arm troubles.
So yes, the Yankees' success is partly about the money they have to spend, but it's also about making the right decisions with that money -- and also smart decisions that require little financial investment.
If the Yankees go on to defeat the Red Sox, I believe they'll have to beat the Cardinals to win the World Series. The Cardinals are an offensive juggernaut, and it will be tough for any pitching staff to shut them down.
An analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back MVP awards with the Reds in 1975 and '76 (the Reds won the World Series both years).