Sometimes the paralyzed loser starts the series decently before “it” strikes. But once the line of zeroes on the scoreboard starts its march, you almost never see a team escape. You think, “The same thing can’t happen again.” But it does. The final streak of losses mirror each other, with two runs constituting a huge breakout. If you feel ghoulish, look up World Series scores for ’76, ’78, ’79, ’83, ’85, ’88, ’90, ’99, ’04 (105-win Cards), ’06 (Tigers) and ’07 as well as the 0, 0 and 1-run totals to which these same Giants held the power-crazed Rangers in their last three World Series wins two years ago.
Perhaps the shape of this series began in the placid state of Barry Zito’s mind before Game 1, when he had to face his eminence, Justin Verlander. The lefty altered every movement, every gesture, of his day from the time he woke up “because you can’t let your nerves get you.
“I was just very adamant on keeping everything slow pretty much from when I got up,” Zito said. “When we’re nice and calm, we always play our best baseball. Our talent is able to come out. But when you start buying into all the hype, you lose yourself a little bit.”
Statisticians debate whether there is such a thing as clutch. But there is no doubt that there is such a thing as choke. If you can’t control your heartbeat, your breathing or your focus as well as you have for 162 normal games, there is no way you can perform as well. So, those who can simply achieve “normal” will rise relative to a large group of their peers.
One reason these Giants have faced pressure so well, winning six elimination games in this postseason, is because they aspire to “normal” — their normal — not to some special playoff greatness.
“You try to trick yourself into thinking it is another game,” said Matt Cain. “But you know. Your mind and your body, they know what’s going on. They know it’s going to be a big game in the World Series.”
In games he doesn’t start, Cain can be seen next to Brian Wilson, the Giants’ injured reliever and a dedicated eccentric. When the Giants need a rally, Wilson stands behind two teammates, one of them often Cain, and while they stand stone-faced, he pretends to play the drums on the tops of their hats. In June, it would be ridiculous, pretentious. In the World Series, you’ve got to do whatever it takes to feel even slightly relaxed.
“Brian’s loose, always making jokes. He’s the guy you want right now in the clubhouse when you’ve got the pressure on,” said Pablo Sandoval, who hit three home runs in Game 1. “In the first couple of games [against the Cards in the NLCS], we were not having fun. We had too much pressure.
“So we enjoy the moment right now. We’re going day by day. I want to see Barry Zito every single day,” Sandoval said. “That’s what we say to each other: ‘Tomorrow is another day. I want to see you tomorrow.’ All the guys say that.”
Purge the last game and your own performance. We need you here — really here — tomorrow.
The most pressure-plagued players in postseason are usually hitters. “I don’t try to get excited because when you get excited, that’s when you get in trouble,” said Sandoval, who insisted that he had the same thought during all three of his homers, as well as during his fourth at-bat in Game 1, when he singled: “ ‘Ball on the barrel of the bat.’ That’s all.”
The Tigers look like they’re trying to barrel the ball to Dearborn.
Perhaps no one truly gets acclimated to this torture chamber. “You know,” said Giants Manager Bruce Bochy — who speaks so calmly it seems he’s just awakened — “it’s hard to figure this game sometimes.”
It’s hard to figure where that anti-pressure serum is hidden. But the Giants’ clubhouse would be a great place to start the search.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/