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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Under pressure, Leyland has choice

Justice: Under pressure, Leyland has choice

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Under pressure, Leyland has choice

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

DETROIT -- Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver summoned reporters to his office before Game 7 of the 1979 World Series.

Desperate times, etc.

The Orioles were on their way to blowing a 3-1 lead, and Weaver was desperate to stop the bleeding.

There's no instruction book on how to handle a Game 7. Does a manager pretend it's another day at the office and let the boys go play?

World Series

This sounds ridiculous since every last person on earth knows it's anything but another day at the office.

What Weaver did that day did not work. In a desperate attempt to make a Game 7 seem normal, he asked the guys who covered the team regularly to go out in the clubhouse and mill around and ask questions the way they normally would.

Reporters typically aren't allowed inside a clubhouse before World Series, so the Orioles would have noticed something was out of sync. They also would not have been fooled. They knew they were about to play Game 7 of the World Series, which, incidentally, they lost to the Pirates.

Last October, when the Cardinals had that incredible comeback victory in Game 6 of the World Series, manager Tony La Russa began planning for Game 7 almost immediately.

He stayed up most of the night thinking about how to avoid a letdown. He telephoned Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols the next morning to tell them that they had to send a message that as amazing as Game 6 had been, it wouldn't mean a thing if the Cardinals lost Game 7.

He remembered that Herb Brooks had told his United States Olympic team that beating the Russians wouldn't be all that big a deal if the boys didn't finish the deal and win the gold.

In the hours before Game 7 last year, the Cardinals broke up into groups and reminded one another about that lesson.

La Russa told them to store Game 6 in a corner of their brains, and that if anyone complimented them on it, to ignore it.

La Russa worried the Cardinals had expended so much physical and emotional energy to win Game 6 that they had nothing left for Game 7.

The Cardinals did come back out and win Game 7. They overcame an early Texas lead and celebrated a remarkable championship.

One of the lessons Tigers manager Jim Leyland says he has learned through the years is that players notice how a manager is handling situations.

So if the manager is screaming and throwing things, there's at least a chance that players are going to be a bit more uptight.

That's a bad thing to be in a game in which players are supposed to be both relaxed and aggressive.

Leyland makes sure he shows his players a confident face. He's not shy about letting them know when he's upset with the way they've been playing, but he also understands the rhythms of the game.

As John Lowenstein once told me, "I never look at the standings until August. You just play hard and see where it gets you."

So, I asked, what changes once you look at the standings in August?

"Nothing," he said. "By then, it's too late."

Baseball is like that. It's played every day, and there's a certain sense of optimism that each and every day brings hope of a new beginning, a new winning streak, whatever.

I covered the 1987 Orioles, who started 0-21. As strange as it sounds, the players showed up everyday thinking this would be the day they'd get something going. Yes, even bad clubs have a collective confidence.

Now the Tigers are up against it. They're the 24th team in history to be 0-3 in a World Series.

Of the previous 23, only three of them have even forced a Game 5. Not a single one of them got as far as a Game 6.

But the Tigers have come too far and have too much talent to think it's over. There has to be some doubt in the back of their minds, but I promise you that there's no sense in either clubhouse that this World Series is over.

So does Leyland state the obvious? Does he call his players together and say anything at all?

Does he remind 'em that all that matters is winning Game 4? His players know that things can change quickly after that.

The Tigers have Justin Verlander going in Game 5, and if they win that one, then the Series shifts back to San Francisco with the Giants knowing they're in a street fight.

La Russa chose to speak last October when the Cardinals trailed the Rangers, three games to two. He told them that all they had to do was win Game 6, because he had a plan to win Game 7. When Game 6 was rained out, that plan became Chris Carpenter.

Did any of it matter? Did La Russa do the right thing by attempting to keep his players focused in a certain direction, or was the World Series always going to be decided by the players?

My guess is that Leyland will say something. He'll remind his guys that nothing else matters except Game 4, that all the Tigers can do tonight is win one game.

But winning one game might change everything. The Tigers don't think they'll lose when Verlander gets the ball. Who knows how it'll unfold after that?

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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