If Joe Girardi hasn’t smashed his fist down on the big red panic button yet, he ought to consider it. The Yankees find themselves sitting in the perilous position of a 3-1 deficit. CC Sabathia will take the mound later today in a pivotal Game Five elimination match. Should he succeed, the Yankees will then have the wonderful opportunity of heading back to Texas where they’ll face Colby Lewis, and then if they manage to win that game, postseason Demigod Cliff Lee. Those with unyielding faith in the Bombers will eagerly anticipate a glory-filled history defining moment. The rest will dubiously await an improbable comeback. Regardless of where one sits on the fan spectrum, there is precedence to consider.
Since 1903 (the mark of the World Series era), the Fall Classic has been held every year except 1904 (because of a boycott) and 1994 (due to a player’s strike). Within this span, there have been ten teams who have managed to come back from a 3-1 series score. Let’s take a look back in time.
1925 | The Pirates managed to beat the Senators in the World Series after trailing 3-1. One particularly notable moment of this series occurred in Game 3 during the eighth inning. Senators fielder Sam Rice tumbled into the stands while reaching for a line drive. After several moments, he finally emerged out of the crowd with the ball in his glove. For the next 50 years, there was speculation that he was assisted by the crowd. This play would haunt Rice for the rest of his life. Upon his death, the Hall of Fame officials read a letter on Rice’s behalf in which the player refuted losing possession of the ball.
1958 | The Yankees defeated the Milwaukee Braves in the World Series after trailing 3-1. Per Baseball Almanac, “Hank Bauer (who was a nine-Series veteran) led with most runs scored (six), most hits (ten), most home runs (four) and most runs batted in (eight). He also topped the Yankees sluggers with a .323 average. Despite less-than-stellar stats in his first four Classics (seven for fifty-seven with a .123 avg.), he combined for eighteen hits, six home runs, fourteen RBI and a .290 average against the Braves in ’57 and ’58.”
1968 | The Tigers beat the Cardinals in the World Series, while on the road. Mickey Lolich was staring at the daunting task of facing elite pitcher Bob Gibson in Game 7. Both pitchers produced six scoreless innings when finally Lolich surrendered a run. In the top of the seventh with two outs, the Tigers struck back and ultimately took a 4-1 lead. By the end of the game, Lolich had surrendered one earned run on five hits and claimed the W.
1985 | The first 3-1 ALCS comeback occurred while on the road as the Royals beat the Blue Jays. During Game 5, Danny Jackson would ultimately wind up with the win, while Blue Jay hurler Jimmy Key would take the loss. The final score of the game was only 2-0. However, in the fourth inning, the Jays had runners on first and third with no outs and failed to bring the run in. In the fifth inning, the Jays had base runners on second and third with no outs and were unable to score. In the sixth inning, the Jays loaded the bases with two outs and still couldn’t produce any runs. Sound familiar?
1985 | The 1985 World Series also produced another startling comeback. In this instance, the Royals would victimize the Cardinals. Perhaps the series momentum shifted in Game 6 when Jorge Orta hit a sharp line drive to first base. Jack Clark fielded the ball and tossed it to the pitcher. Evidently, Umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe despite the rest of the collective baseball world seeing otherwise (television would ultimately confirm the blown call). The Royals would go on to win the game 2-1, and George Brett and company would go on to take the championship.
1986 | The Red Sox sent a dagger through the California Angels postseason hopes. In Game 7 of the ALCS, Roger Clemens took the mound for the Sox and pitched magnificently. Led by slugger Jim Rice, the Sox obliterated the Angels, 8-1. Interestingly enough, in Game 1 of the series, Roger Clemens was the losing pitcher (Mike Witt the winner) in an 8-1 California blowout of the Sox. In that game, Witt had thrown a 5-hit complete game.
1996 | The Atlanta Braves defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS best-of-seven after trailing 3-1. The Braves boasted one of the most ridiculous postseason rotations imaginable with Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine. Smoltz, who had 24 wins that season, would lead Atlanta in a 14-0 blowout in Game 5. Chipper Jones and Jeff Blauser would each deliver big hits resulting in an early first inning 5-0 lead. Javy Lopez, Fred McGriff, and Andruw Jones would all connect for home runs in Game 7, leading to a 15-0 blowout and series victory by the Braves.
2003 | The Marlins upset the Cubs while on the road after trailing the series. The big moment of this series came in Game 6. With a 3-0 advantage, and five outs to go, Luis Castillo hit a foul ball off Mark Prior. A fan (Steve Bartman) reached for the ball which promptly prevented Moises Alou from catching it. The inning took a turn for the worse from there and the Marlins eventually won the game 8-3. The rest, as we say, was history.
2004 | F&$% 2004. You all know what happened. Mike Mussina, Jon Lieber,
2007 | The Red Sox strike again, this time against the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS. During Game 5, Josh Beckett dominated CC Sabathia over eight innings while amassing 11 strikeouts. Curt Schilling would go on to dominate Fausto Carmona in a 12-2 win Game 6 and Daisuke Matsuzaka beat Jake Westbrook in an 11-2 win in Game 7. This postseason ALCS comeback emphasized the depth of the Sox farm system as young superstars such as Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury all made significant contributions. Apparently, the midges didn’t see fit to plague this series.
All in all, it’s not impossible for the Yankees to come back. Whether or not history repeats itself largely depends on whether New York can muster some big production in big moments. Either way, this time tomorrow we’ll know if a series win is still possible.
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