SAN FRANCISCO -- On the play that will live in infamy for the Giants in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, the ball barely left the infield. Phillies center fielder
"No doubt the error hurt," Huff said. "I was just trying to rush it, get it in my glove and throw it [home]. We're not machines, man. We make mistakes. I should have taken the out. I wish I could hit rewind."
Huff wasn't alone. His was one of three errors in Game 5 -- Phillies first baseman
Before Huff's error in the third, catcher
Once again this October has shown that in the small sample size of pressure-packed playoff games, anything can happen. And across baseball this postseason, anything has happened.
A rash of poor defense has plagued the first half of this year's postseason, beyond the much-publicized woes of Braves infielder
The impact of defense has been particularly profound this October because runs have been scarce. While the average regular-season game featured 8.8 combined runs, this year's postseason average is nearly two runs lower, at 7.2 per game. NL playoff games have been particularly riddled with low scoring and high errors -- the average contest in the senior circuit has had only 5.9 runs and 2.1 errors per game.
In this year's playoffs, 19 of 179 runs scored have been unearned, a rate of 10.6 percent, a few points higher than the regular-season rate of 7.9 percent unearned. A staggering 19.7 percent of runs scored in NL playoff games have been unearned.
"The bright lights come on and what would be considered just a normal boot now becomes highlighted," said former Giants first baseman
Making the findings even more surprising is that this year's playoff field contained six of the eight least error-prone teams (Yankees, Reds, Giants, Twins, Phillies and Rays), with only the Rangers and Braves below league average. By
What could possibly explain the pronounced effect of poor defense this postseason? There's no simple answer. Of course there's the increased scrutiny and pressure surrounding each play; the ballpark atmosphere is different with louder fans and use of other distractions like fans waving rally towels ("It affects the depth of the ball sometimes," Phillies right fielder
When measured against a regular season of 2,430 games, the to-date 25 playoff games represents a relatively small sample, but a pace of 1.25 errors per game equates to five in a four-game series, yet the Phillies and Reds, for instance, had twice that (10) in their three-game NLDS set.
The Reds appeared ready to steal Game 2 in Philadelphia until the seventh inning, when right fielder
There have been other notable lapses in recent years, too. Cardinals left fielder
It affects all comers, too. Huff is not known for his defensive range, but he rarely makes many errors. He made only three errors this season, and his .996 fielding percentage at first base ranked fifth in the NL.
Utley, on the other hand, is known as a sharp fielder, but he made two errors in last year's postseason and has made two official errors so far in this year's postseason, not to mention Thursday's bobble and a misplay on a one-hopper in NLCS Game 3 that led to a run -- a play for which he was originally charged an error before the official scorer changed his mind.
"Errors are part of baseball, and they will always be a part of baseball," Utley said at Friday's pre-NLCS media day. "I just think these games are magnified, and people are paying attention, so they get looked at a bit more."
The defensive miscues are not limited to statistical errors, either. There were pop-ups dropping untouched, as happened to the Giants in NLCS Game 1 on Sunday, and two lapses by the Rays in ALDS Game 5 that allowed the Rangers to score a runner from second base without the ball leaving the infield.
Even when an error or other mistake doesn't immediately lead to a run, there is a toll extracted from the team who committed the defensive lapse in the form of additional pitches thrown.
"You think about, well, the error cost you a run, but a lot of times it costs you an inning or two out of your starting pitcher," Yankees manager
Never was that more important than in the "Brooks Conrad Game," when the Braves' second baseman made three errors in NLDS Game 3, the first two of which sabotaged starter
Hudson exited after the seventh inning with a 2-1 lead, having thrown 106 pitches and allowed only four hits and one unearned run. If he hadn't expended 20 extra pitches pursuing fourth outs, a Hudson who had thrown only 86 pitches would have at least pitched the eighth, allowing manager
As it was, Cox used lefty
"It's not something that you think about when you're out there, but it all adds up when you have to throw extra pitches," Yankees ace
And so it is that pitching and defense -- the old adage's recipe for winning championships -- are inextricably linked, and never more important than the postseason, when a championship can be close and the end of a season, just a few mistakes away, can be even closer.