Yankees' mantra: Cocoon, Routine, Simplicity
Bombers don't rise to occasion in October; they keep it simple
A couple of years ago, on a warm June afternoon, Derek Jeter was in one of his HO-scaled slumps, with one hit in three games. He was asked what he did differently in batting practice if he felt a slide coming on.
"Nothing," he replied. "I've taken batting practice the same way every day since I got to the Major Leagues. I never change a thing."
A couple of months later, he mentioned his bat. "It's the same model I was handed the day I reported to rookie ball. Never changed anything. Same model. I try to do the same things consistently every day. That keeps everything simple. Simplicity is important."
Cocoon, routine, simplicity. "I guess that's why you play a game in October the same way you play a game in Kansas City in May," I replied.
"You said it," Jeter shrugged, "not me."
Told that story, one now-former teammate said, "That's why he insists on taking BP every day, even day games after night games. Don't think that doesn't get noticed by young or new players who emulate him and try to do the same thing. It's one of those little, non-statistical things that makes the Yankees what they are."
After Andy Pettitte on Thursday night rolled out his 19th career postseason win and 25th postseason quality start -- both Major League Baseball records -- he was succinct in his postgame comments, sounding remarkably like Roy Halladay the night before, when he praised his catcher and reduced his historic no-hitter to his norm. "It comes down to controlling your emotions," Pettitte said at the podium. "I try to take a deep breath, so there's nothing nervous. I try to have tunnel vision."
Which is reminiscent of Mariano Rivera's reflection on the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series -- the lone postseason loss of his career. The day he reported to Spring Training in February 2002, he said, "This is what I think about -- I broke three bats, they hit three bloop hits. It could happen anytime -- Spring Training, June, anytime. If I break a bat and the ball gets caught, I sleep. If I break three bats and they get the runs, I sleep. I will move forward and keep making my pitches."
Keepin' it routine
Jeter, Pettitte and Rivera have been doing this October stuff for 15 years. It isn't about "rising to the occasion" or being the emotional lords of the rings. They are precisely the opposite. Brain surgeons don't rise to the occasion. They are in cocoons. They reduce complications to the simple. And they operate with nerve, a combination of precision and intrepid brilliance that few of us can fathom.
The Yankees reduce October in Minneapolis against the team with the best home record in the Major Leagues to a Thursday afternoon against the Royals in Kansas City.
We all appreciate the fact that the teams in the postseason are better than most of the teams faced on Thursday afternoons in May. The pitchers are all top-of-the-rotation starters, the bullpens are theoretically elite and the hitters are where they are because they grind at-bats.
"It's about reducing these games to the games you're used to, and executing the way you always want to execute," said Pettitte.
Which, while people talk of "getting up" or playing to crowds, Pettitte, Jeter and Rivera have done for 15 years. Cocoon. Routine. Simplicity.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.