The turning point in Game 1 of last year's ALDS match-up between the Twins and Yankees came in the sixth inning when Curtis Granderson delivered a two-run triple against Francisco Liriano with two outs.
You might recall the situation. The Twins led 3-2 at the time, and Liriano had been dominating for much of the game. At the time Granderson stepped in, Minnesota's starter had pitched 5 2/3 innings, striking out seven while allowing only two runs on five hits. If he could retire Granderson -- who had fared very poorly against left-handed pitchers throughout his career -- Liriano would have had a quality start in the books and sent the Twins into the seventh with a lead.
Unfortunately, that's not how it went down. Granderson drove a ball high off the right field wall, bringing home two runs and knocking Liriano out of the game. The Yankees would go on to win and sweep the series.
Many sour Twins fans look at this event as a failure on the part of Liriano -- further evidence that he buckles under pressure and cannot be trusted in big spots (this analysis, of course, ignores the fact that he shut down the league's highest-scoring offense over the first five innings).
But if you ask a Yankees fan about the play, they'll give you a different viewpoint. Most likely, they'll tell you that it was a great piece of hitting by Granderson, who managed to get the best of a very good pitcher, changing his team's fortunes.
This is a topic I've been wanting to write about for a while: the difference between success and failure. Or, more specifically, the difference between our perceptions of success and failure.
There's a psychological aspect here that tends to cloud fan analysis. When a player on our favorite team reaches an unfavorable outcome -- a batter strikes out, a pitcher gives up a home run, a base runner gets thrown out stealing -- we tend to blame it on him rather than crediting his opponent. The opposite is also true. When Twins fans reminisce about Kirby Puckett's momentous home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, our first thought isn't, "What a crummy pitch by Charlie Liebrandt." Similarly, when we recall Jack Morris' gritty 10-inning performance the next night, most of us don't think, "Boy, the Braves' lineup sure did suck in that game."
So, setting aside our emotional intensity as fans, can we really claim with confidence that Liriano failed in that key spot? He went to his best pitch, delivering a slider that tailed away from the lefty swinger, and Granderson simply went out and got it. It's true that Grandy has had his struggles against southpaws over the course of his career, but he's a good baseball player. He's collected 55 extra-base hits against lefties in the majors, and not every one of those has come on a mistake pitch.
I write this post not to make any specific point, but rather to get people thinking about success and failure in a different way, especially when analyzing specific events. Just because things don't go the way we'd like, it doesn't mean we always have to blame somebody. In major league baseball, and especially in the playoffs, the opposition comprises the most elite players in the world.
Sometimes it's more a matter of the other side succeeding than our own side failing.