Q&A with ProCoach Nick Green: Playoff Baseball from the Dugout

With playoff baseball upon us, UP17 decided to sit down with ProCoach Nick Green to discuss his playoff baseball experiences:

Nick GreenUP17: Nick, can you talk about your playoff baseball experience and how it differs from the regular season?

Nick: I was fortunate enough to be a part of three different Division Series. In 2004 (my rookie season with the Atlanta Braves), we won 96 games and won the NL East division by 10 games. We had a really good team but it’s all about who is hot at the right time. The Houston Astros beat us three games to two in the five game series. Carlos Beltran, who had been traded from Kansas City to Houston in June, single handled beat us. He had a monster series, going 10-22, 4 HR, 9 RBI and 9 Runs scored in the five games. Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio both hit over .400 in the series, but it was hard to forget the huge hits and the feel of what Beltran had done. We played good baseball for the first four games, but Game 5 felt a little different. Every single pitch, at bat, and out felt more important than the rest of the series. It was win or go home. The losing feeling in my stomach was something I hadn’t had since high school when we lost the state championship my Sophomore year.

In 2006, while I was with the New York Yankees, we won 97 games and won the AL East division by 10 games. Jorge Posada hit 23 HR and had 93 RBI. Derek Jeter hit .343 and won the batting title. Robinson Cano hit .342 and finished second in the AL in hitting behind Jeter. Alex Rodriguez hit 35 HR and had 121 RBI. Johnny Damon had 24 HR, Jason Giambi hit 37 HR with 113 RBI as well. We also had Melky Cabrera, Bobby Abreu, Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. This team was the best offensive team I’ve ever played on. The pressure of the playoffs is real! We scored eight runs in Game 1 (which we won) and a total of six runs over the last three games, eventually losing to the Detroit Tigers in four games of the ALDS. These guys are some of the best players ever and you see what happened once the post season hit. It’s so easy to say, “Just relax and have fun. Play like it’s the regular season.” It’s just not that easy to do. The intensity and pressure are amplified by a million.

In 2009, our Boston Red Sox team won 95 games and finished 2nd in the AL East behind the NY Yankees. Again, we had a really good team led by Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz. It was another short series in the ALDS. We were swept by the Anaheim Angels in 3 games. We couldn’t get anything going offensively until Game 3 and it was too late by then. Ellsbury, Pedroia, Youkilis and Ortiz had 7 hits between them in 3 games. It’s so hard to come back from being down 2-0 in a 5-game series. Every pitch, every out, every at bat means something. It has to be a collective team effort in the playoffs.

It’s hard to describe the feelings and how different they are in the playoffs than during the regular season. Every single person in the dugout knows what’s on the line. You don’t have 100 more games or 50 more games. It’s a best of 5, best of 7 or now, win or go home (Wild Card games).

UP17: Why do you feel your routine and preparation are so important during the playoffs?

Nick: Your routine is part of your preparation. We tend to do the same things every single day for 6-7 months in this game. It’s a game of routine and repetition, and that doesn’t stop once the playoffs come. Guys tend to back off some of the reps the longer the season goes on, but you still do the same things and get your work in. You wouldn’t ever tell somebody, “Hey, you hit .300 in the regular season. Don’t worry about getting your tee work in today.” That tee work is what helped you hit .300. It was important and you don’t want to change that or get complacent.

UP17: What was the most important thing that you and other players did to ease the pressures of playoff games?

Nick: You really just want to try to keep that same routine and same attitude. Once you realize how much the moment means, it’s often hard to relax. Typically, the harder you try to be perfect, instead of trusting the hard work you’ve put in will translate to success, the less success you have. David Ortiz says he tried to pretend he was sipping margaritas on the beach in big moments. You have to try to find whatever gets you in that happy state. I always try to remember that I’ll still wake up tomorrow and my family will love me, no matter how I play today. Have fun, enjoy the moment.

UP17: Did the overall game plan change? More bunts, focus on execution, etc…?

Nick: There is no doubt game plans change in the playoffs. Positioning, and how you approach pitchers or hitters doesn’t necessarily change. But there isn’t as much slack given to starting pitchers. You’re going to play more matchups. You’ll see a lefty come in just to get Bryce Harper out. You’ll see a sinker ball pitcher come in a game that has one out with a man on 1st and 2nd. You’ll see closers come in for a five or six-out save. A lot of things change because of the importance of every out. Hitters who might not always try to move a runner over to 3rd base with no outs, might try to move a runner.

The ultimate goal in the big leagues is to win ballgames. When it gets to playoff time, chemistry and having the right personnel is so important. Everybody that plays this game wants a World Series ring and will do whatever it takes to get one!

*If you are interested in working on your game with a former Major Leaguer like Nick, please contact us and ask about a free consultation.