Veterans give playoff advice to youngsters

Veterans give playoff advice to youngsters
October 1, 2013, 9:30 pm
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BOSTON – The Red Sox lead the American League in wins, runs scored, and grand slams. They also lead baseball in the number of bearded faces on the roster, and could very well lead in the number of customized t-shirts they’ve produced this season.
“We got 47 of ‘em,” said David Ross. “I’m going to have another shirt made up. We’re going to have a ‘B’, an owl, an ‘R’, and a ‘U’:  Be who you are.”
And that is precisely Ross’ advice to the players on the roster who don’t have postseason experience.  
“I’ve already been yelling at them: ‘Don’t change. Be who you are,’” Ross said. “Don’t put pressure on yourself. There’s nothing different about this game, other than all eyes are on you, which is fun. This is why you did the extra sprints in the offseason. This is why you lift the extra weights. It wasn’t for 162. It was for this time. This is when you’re going to shine. This is when guys make their names. So go out, let your skills produce. Go out, get outs, get hits, run hard, take the extra base. Too many times people want to play a little more cautious. It’s almost like you got to play a little more on the edge. Because it’s time to push it. It’s time to make things happen.”
With a mostly veteran team, though, most players on the roster do have playoff experience. Still, there are some players who will get their first taste of the postseason this year.
“I don’t know that you can fully prepare for it,” said manager John Farrell. “The one moment that quickly comes back to mind is [Game 3 of the World Series] in Colorado in 2007. We had two rookies [Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury] that got on base seven times in one game and were catalysts in that series. So hopefully that’s a situation that reproduces itself with those inexperienced players or that might be in the postseason at the big league level for the first time.
“And that’s where you get to understand and know the personality inside the player and that they can perform in those settings, whether that’s a Brandon Workman, someone else that’s a younger guy that’s going to be asked to contribute in leverage moments. We’re looking forward to that unfolding.”
It can be intimidating. Even for those who’ve been there before.
Ross has appeared in six playoff games in four seasons  – 2004 with the Dodgers, 2008 with the Sox, and 2010 and 2012 with the Braves. He was Atlanta’s starting catcher last season, when the Braves lost the one-game wild-card playoff against the Cardinals.
“I remember driving to the park,” Ross said. “The night before I barely slept. I was nervous as heck, walking out to the bullpen, stomach killing me, thought I was going to throw up. First pitch, first strikeout, I threw the ball around and the next thing I know I’m in the middle of the game.
“But it’s just all that energy and hype. You need to go thru that. Let’s say bases loaded in the sixth in a regular season game, probably going to be a little hype. Bases loaded in the sixth in a post-season game, your energy level and the crowd’s energy level is going to take it to a whole new height. So you have to learn to control your breathing, control your emotions, still have a professional at-bat.
“That’s the game you’re going to see. That’s where experience comes in and guys do a better job. But we shouldn’t have a problem with those guys. We’ll have our meetings and we’ll talk. I think we have a lot of professional guys, and guys that aren’t’ going to change their plan they’ve been doing all year. They realize who we are. We realize who our identity is and we’re going to try to stick to that.”
But playoff games are not just like any other games.
“The playoffs truly is a different game. It truly is,” said Jonny Gomes, who has appeared in three postseason games, two with the Reds in 2009 and one last season with the A’s.
“The rules are the same, the fields the same, everything. But these guys’ll see 2-0 counts to lead-off hitters, the place will go crazy likes it’s 2-0 count to the lead-off hitter in the ninth inning. The atmosphere, how success and failure is exposed at the highest level. But I think guys that succeed in the playoffs don’t do anything different. It’s just the positives and the negatives are magnified that much more. But after 6 ½ months of baseball you can’t do anything different.”
But, for all the advice a player receives, there’s nothing like experience.
“You can’t tame the monster of playoffs,” Gomes said. “You definitely have to go through it on your own. And unfortunately for players, you don’t have that opportunity to do it too many times. It’s like, ‘Well, next time in the playoffs I’m going to do this.’ Well, we just said our farewells to [Colorado’s] Todd Helton who played 17 years and had two play-off experiences. I was always told when I went in ’08 [with the Rays, but did not get into a game] , we had George Hendrick and Don Zimmer on the staff, and they said just soak every single ounce of it in. It’s just a complete honor to go to playoffs in this game.”
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, along with Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, Daniel Nava, Mike Carp, Workman, Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, and Drake Britton – depending on the Sox playoff roster --  is one of the players who will be getting his first taste of postseason play.
“Just take it as a game,” he said. “That’s the biggest focus we can have. Can’t sit there and get tight and get nervous because it’s a playoff game. We got to take it as any other game and just play the game. That’s the biggest thing.”
Saltalamacchia was ‘this close’ to the playoffs in past seasons. In 2010, he was acquired at the trading deadline from the Rangers. The Sox missed out on the postseason that year, while the Rangers went to the World Series (losing in five games to the Giants). He was with the Sox for the horrific collapse of 2011, when the Sox lost a playoff berth in the final game of the season. Now, in his seventh big league season, he will be the starting catcher on his first play-off team.
“There’s no better feeling,” Saltalamacchia said, his face lighting up. “This is what we work for. To go from where we were last year to where we are this year. In 2010 I was with Texas, got traded over, saw them go to the playoffs. I’ve always wanted to be a part of this. In 2011 we were there and then September kind of derailed, and we didn’t get it. This is something that every guy works for and you don’t take it for granted because you never know when you’ll get this opportunity again.”