Sax and Knoblauch both played second base, just like Utley. But is that really an appropriate comparison? Does Utley suddenly have a terrible case of the “yips?”
First of all, let’s delve into some possible physical issues that Utley has been dealing with.
NOT AN EASY POSITION TO PLAY, HEALTHY OR HURT
Second base is a difficult position to play. The two big Utley plays in question both came while he was attempting to turn double plays, which are always difficult plays to make. You are focused on catching the ball and touching the bag, all while a base-runner bears down on you from the other side.
The runner might be right on top of you. You might feel you have to hurry your throw. You might not have a good grip on the ball and end up rushing.
It’s also a timing play, which is why infielders work on it constantly during batting practice. If your partner — shortstop Jimmy Rollins in Utley’s case — double-clutches, and your momentum is already going toward the bag, now your timing might be off as you’re trying to hurry your throw. This can create mistakes in a hurry. In fact, Rollins made it a point to take responsibility for giving Utley a poor relay on one of the plays in question.
Furthermore, the possibility has been brought up that Utley might be injured. That he is dealing with a foot injury that is affecting how he pushes off when he turns the double play, and which will need attention in the offseason.
Utley could be playing hurt and not saying anything about it. He’s a big part of that offense, and since you can’t DH in the National League, he’s opting to play through the pain. An injury like that could definitely have something to do with it. You’re not going to be able to push off as well as you can. If that is the case, you just have to tip your hat to him for wanting to be in that situation and wanting to play hurt.
But let’s for a moment assume Utley is fine physically and examine the mental side of things. Guys make mental mistakes in baseball. It happens. It’s just part of the game, and you can’t be perfect all the time. It’s how you respond to the negativity to turn the negative into a positive. You’ve got to be stronger mentally to overcome that.
All of a sudden now he’s going through a couple bad games. And when you do it in the postseason it magnifies the intensity of what he’s trying to do. Now there is a chance doubt can creep in.
Your body starts telling you “uh-oh, I have to throw this ball over to Ryan Howard.” The fans could become brutal for Utley – even in Philadelphia, but especially on the road. In Los Angeles, you could see Utley having to look at people sitting behind first base with a bulls-eye sign, or a bunch of fans over there all wearing baseball gloves, taunting him.
And with each mistake, the media will be asking more and more questions about it. They’re looking for stories, and now all of a sudden you’ve given them one. It can snowball if you’re not careful.
It’s certainly happened before, and not just to second basemen like Knoblauch and Sax.
LOSING YOUR CONTROL
Rick Ankiel was a promising pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals, but then had his famous meltdowns where he lost the strike zone during the 2000 playoffs. Ankiel walked six Braves and threw five wild pitches in 2 2/3 innings in the NLDS, then walked another five and threw four wild pitches in 1 1/3 innings vs. the Mets in the NLCS. His career as a pitcher was essentially over, though he did recover remarkably to return to the majors as an outfielder.
I had a teammate with the Twins, Joe Decker, who went 16-14 with a 3.29 ERA in 1974. The next season he just completely lost his control. He was throwing balls over the cage during batting practice. In 1974, he went 1-3 with a 8.54 ERA and 36 walks in 26 1/3 innings, and was never the same.
Steve Blass was another guy who went through that. He was a good pitcher for the Pirates for eight seasons, winning 19 games in 1972. Then all of a sudden he lost it, walking 84 and hitting 12 batters in 88 2/3 innings in 1973. His career was essentially over.
Posnanski: Albert Pujols' at-bats used to be buzzworthy, must-watch events. Now, they're not. Here's the result of his struggles the past few years.
TORONTO (AP) - R.A. Dickey won his second straight start, Edwin Encarnacion hit a tiebreaking, bases-loaded double in the seventh inning, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Tampa Bay Rays 7-5 Monday.
Yankees win their 27th World Series
Check out all the best action from the World Series.
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.