10/07/09 — Opinion -- Playoffs define heroes and scapegoats

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Opinion -- Playoffs define heroes and scapegoats

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on October 7, 2009 1:46 PM

A friend once told me "legends aren't great all the time, only when they have to be."

Major League Baseball's postseason offers a time like few others for established legends and undiscovered heroes to be great when it matters most. The playoffs also bring shattered dreams, broken hearts and scapegoats forever etched into the history of the game.

Here are three things to watch this postseason:

The 'Pen is mightier: Playoff wins hinge on more than flashy leather, clutch hits and gritty starting pitching performances. Having a crafty middle reliever capable of cleaning up a starter's mess or a closer with the ability to navigate through the heart of a lineup is pivotal.

Only three teams since the divisional-play era began in 1969 have won a World Series with a closer that owned an ERA over 3.00. Mariano River (N.Y. Yankees), Joe Nathan (Minnesota), Jonathan Broxton (L.A. Dodgers), Ryan Franklin (St. Louis) and Jon Papelbon (Boston) all bring ERAs less than 3.00 into the postseason.

Squeaky clean ERAs and all those regular-season saves won't mean a thing if the aforementioned closers can't deliver when the spotlight shines a lot brighter.

Nowhere to hide: No player will be under a larger microscope during the playoffs than New York third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Of Rodriguez's 583 career home runs, just seven have come in the postseason.

In 39 playoff games, A-Rod has struck out 38 times and has 41 hits in 147 at-bats. If Rodriguez fails to contribute yet again this postseason the Yankees might have to wait another year to win their first World Series since 2000.

Angels in the outfield: It'll be hard not to root for the Los Angeles Angels during the playoffs following the tragic death of pitcher Nick Adenhart in early April.

A promising 22-year-old pitcher, Adenhart lost his life in an accident with a drunk driver in the early hours of April 9. Adenhart's memory has lived on through a painting on the center-field wall at Angel Stadium and through his jersey hanging in the dugout.

In the weeks following Adenhart's death, the Angels lost nine of 13 contests and fell 51/2 games out of first place in the American League West. Starting in mid June, Los Angeles went on a 31/2 month stretch in which it went 62-34 and pulled away with the division lead.

Winning a World Series won't bring Nick Adenhart back to his family or teammates. It will, however, add further proof to the belief that tragedies can inspire people to accomplish what may seem impossible at times.