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Home-field advantage is not all it's cracked up to be

New York Mets' Daniel Murphy runs around third

New York Mets' Daniel Murphy runs around third base after hitting a one-run homer against Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw in the top of the 4th inning at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles during Game 1 of the NLDS Friday Oct. 9, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

LOS ANGELES - Here is some advice to heed late next September when ballclubs are exhausting themselves by trying like crazy to gain home-field advantage in the postseason: Don't bother. The early results this year suggest that "home-field advantage" is at least an overstatement and at most an oxymoron.

Heading into Saturday night's Mets-Dodgers game, visiting teams had won 78 percent of playoff games, going 7-2. Outside of the state of Missouri, it was 100 percent, what with the Royals and Cardinals having been the only two home winners.

To be sure, there is enjoyment to be had by playing in familiar surroundings, having last licks and getting inspiration from your own fans. Royals players, in fact, said the excitement gave them an extra boost to come back Friday in a victory that possibly saved their season.

What's more, there is statistical, historical incentive. An ESPN study showed that when a home team wins Game 1 in a best-of-five playoff, that team wins the series 70 percent of the time.

But winning that first game, or a wild-card game, has been a steep hill this season. Maybe it's coincidence or just an anomaly, but is sure is hard to ignore.

"I don't think it matters where you lose it; losing the first game is never fun. It doesn't matter where you do it," said Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw, whose career postseason record fell to 1-6 with a 3-1 loss to the Mets at home Friday night.

Before that game, Mets manager Terry Collins said, "I really don't have all the answers, but I've talked to enough managers that tell me a lot of it is, when you start out at home, the pressure is on you. You're the guys who are supposed to win. You've got the better records or whatever it may be, and that's why you've got home-field advantage. And the visitors just go in more relaxed.

"So I told our guys yesterday, 'Look, we've just got to play our game. We play good on the road. Let's not change anything,' " Collins said. "I just think it's the fact that the heat is on the home team."

Collins actually took some heat during the final week of the regular season for using lineups filled with backups and call-ups. It even contributed to putting the Mets on the wrong side of a no-hitter. Still, Collins believed that resting his players was more important than any other consideration.

Home field is generally only a slight advantage anyway. Studies that have taken into account all major-league games over several years show that the home side wins 54 percent of the time -- a less distinct advantage than there is in the National Football League, in which home teams win about 60 percent of the time in the regular season, 66 percent in the postseason.

Finding the equalizer in baseball's territorial issue might be simple. It could be no more complicated than the key to every real estate question: location, location, location.

The pivotal location is the mound. At least this year, the road teams have gotten the best performances from their starting pitchers: Dallas Keuchel against the Yankees, Jake Arrieta against the Pirates and Jacob deGrom against the Dodgers.

"Jacob pitched an amazing game. We battled him, got him deep in some counts, got his pitch count up there," Kershaw said late Friday. "But he outpitched me, plain and simple."

The Dodgers had no complaint about manager Don Mattingly's decision to lift Kershaw with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, a move that allowed David Wright to hit a huge two-run single against Pedro Baez. "I put myself in that spot," Kershaw said. "There's not much room for arguing when you put yourself in that position."

Game 1 put the Mets in position to win the series in New York, where the series resumes Monday night before fans who have been starving in October since 2006.

"They're pretty excitable. They know the game very well. They love their Mets," Collins said. "I know that they're going to come out and support the club, and when they've done that, we've played pretty good."

But there are no guarantees.


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