Playing an extra post-season game at your own field counts for little these days, writes Gregg Patton.
With apologies to Shakespeare, who never saw a baseball pennant race, the last week of the regular season was much ado about nothing.
That would be the fight for the mythical home-field advantage. As in myth.
For the most part, the teams that qualified for the post-season already knew they were in.
Yet they continued to compete at near full throttle trying to secure extra games in their own ballparks by finishing with the best records possible.
After Pittsburgh Pirates defeated Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, thus ensuring that they would play the one-day, National League wild-card game tomorrow against the Reds at Pittsburgh, MLB Network commentator Darryl Hamilton talked about all the “meaningful games” still being played.
“Home-field advantage is a big deal,” said the former big-league outfielder on the air. “You really want it.”
Of course, you want it. Athletes in all sports feel more comfortable in familiar surroundings.
But a big deal? In baseball, the comforts of home do not amount to much on the field.
Statistical studies tell us that MLB teams win about 54 per cent of their home games, the least-significant advantage within the four major North American sports leagues.
In their hearts, ballplayers might want to dress in their own clubhouse and listen to their own fans cheering. In their brains, it is a minimal factor.
The Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly half-yawned at the notion his team would face one extra game at Atlanta Braves or St Louis Cardinals, if their opening National League Division Series goes the entire five games.
“You’d like to be at home, but I really don’t care where we play and I think our team doesn’t care,” he said. “It’s more about who pitches, who makes big plays and who gets big hits.”
One reason he does not care is that he has two of the league’s best pitchers, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, for the first two games on the road.
“You throw Kersh and Greinke out there,” said Mattingly, smiling, “you like your chances.”
He might also like these numbers from the 2012 post-season: of the 37 games played, visitors won 19, home teams 18.
Even more significantly, the one-game wild-card battles in the National League and the American League each were won by the road team.
In the seven post-season series, the visitors won the clinching game four times at the other guys’ park. So why the fuss over home field this last week?
Oakland Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick pretty much spoke for everyone when he envisioned playing at home, “The place will be rockin’ and electric.”
Nice. But, really, no advantage.