2010 MLB Playoffs: Hope Survives, Teams That Came Back Down Two Games To None
Three of this year's division series seem all but over.
The Yankees, Phillies, and Rangers lead their best of five division series by two games to none. Only a late inning rally by the Atlanta Braves prevented all four baseball series from being two games to none affairs.
Baseball has been playing five game series since 1969. In that year baseball added four new teams and expanded each league to two divisions.
From 1969 to 1984 the winners of the Eastern and Western divisions faced off against each other in a five game set to determine who would go to the World Series.
Starting in 1985, baseball changed the five-game format of the league championship to the current best-of-seven.
When the Wild Card was introduced in 1994, four teams from each league were now allowed into the playoffs. Baseball again used the five-game series to determine the two winners in the divisional round.
In total there have exactly 100 best-of-five playoff series in baseball since 1969. In seven of them, a team has trailed two games to none and come back to win the series.
This slide show is a look at the seven ball clubs who accomplished the feat.
1981 Los Angeles Dodgers
1981 was a strike-shortened season which saw the first one-third of the season wiped out by labor strife.
In order to win back fan interest, baseball decided to allow four playoff teams from each league. This was a one-time deal and was the first occurrence of the LDS or League Division Series.
In the National League the Montreal Expos faced off against Philadelphia and Los Angeles played Houston.
The first two games of the LA/HOU series were in Houston and showcased amazing pitching performances.
Game 1 featured Dodger sensation Fernando Valenzuela and strikeout King Nolan Ryan for the Astros. Ryan came away with the complete game win when Alan Ashby hit a tie-breaking home run in the bottom of the ninth off Dodgers reliever, and future Oakland great, Dave Stewart.
Game 2 was even better. The two teams matched zeros for 10 innings. In the bottom of the 11th Phil Garner scored on a Denny Walling single with two outs and the bases loaded. The Astros won 1-0 and took a 2-0 series lead.
Two days later in LA, the Dodgers wasted no time tripling their run output from the games in Houston, when a first-inning Steve Garvey home run helped the Dodgers to an early 3-0 lead. Behind the strong pitching of Burt Hooten, the Dodgers won 6-1.
Runs were again at a premium the next day, when the Dodgers threw Valenzuela and the Astros countered with Vern Ruhle. Valenzuela held the Astros to just one run and a Pedro Guerrero home run helped the Dodgers even the series with a 2-1 win.
In Game 5 Nolan Ryan returned to the mound for the Astros. Jerry Reuss, who had thrown nine scoreless innings in Game 2, opposed him on three days rest. Reuss once again pitched nine shutout innings and a sixth inning rally saw the Dodgers prevail 4-0.
Ruess' line for the LDS was 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 18 IP, 10 H, 5 BB and 7 K
In the five game series a total of 19 runs were scored, seven of them in the Game 3 "blowout."
The Dodgers beat the Expos in the NLCS, three games to two, and then triumphed over the Yankees in the World Series. It was the franchises' first World Championship in 16 years.
This first occurrence of the two games to none comeback in the best of five format, is also the only time when the team accomplishing the feat went on to win the World Series.
1982 Milwaukee Brewers
The first two games were in California and the Angels won 8-3 and 4-2. Neither game was close. The Angels chased Brewers ace Mike Caldwell after three innings and six runs in Game 1. In Game 2 they built a 4-0 lead and cruised home behind the a masterfuly complete game from Bruce Kison.
The series now shifted to Milwaukee for the final three games.
In Game 3, Don Sutton shut out the Angles for seven innings and Paul Molitor helped the Brewers build a 5-0 lead. They won the game 5-3.
Game 4 was also not much of a contest as the Brewers raced to a 6-0 lead by the fourth inning. The Angles narrowed it to 7-5 in the top of the eighth on a Don Baylor grand slam, but Mark Brouhard answered for the Brewers with a two run shot in the bottom half of the inning. The Brewers won 9-5.
In the decisive Game 5 the Angels seemed to repeat the series’ script as they led early 1-0 and then 3-1. The Brewers rallied to make it 3-3 by the bottom of the 7th.
In the seventh, with two outs and the bases loaded, Cecil Cooper's two run single finally moved the Brewers ahead. It was all the margin the Brewers needed to complete their comeback.
The Brewers lost the World Series, in seven games, to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Brewers led 3-1 in Game 7, until the bottom of the sixth inning.
1984 San Diego Padres
During the last year in which the LCS was five games, the third team in its history come back from a two games to none deficit.
Things looked ready to change for the southsiders when five home runs lifted them to a 13-0 win in Game 1 and then won a gutty 4-2 contest in Game 2. Both wins were in Chicago and the series now shifted to San Diego.
San Diego responded at home, against Cub starter Dennis Eckersley. Three RBI from Kevin McReynolds helped the Padres to a 7-1 win behind the pitching of Ed Whitson and Rich Gossage.
Game 4 was a back and forth tilt that saw the lead change hands five times. San Diego led early 2-0 on a Tony Gwynn sac fly and a Steve Garvey double. The Cubs roared back to take a 3-2 lead when Jody Davis and Leon Durham hit back-to-back home runs in the top of the fourth.
The Padres tied the game in the fifth and it remained so until the bottom of the seventh inning, when another Steve Garvey RBI and a passed ball gave the Padres a 5-3 edge.
The lead didn't last.
Rich Gossage blew the save opportunity the next inning when he allowed three hits. The game was now knotted at five.
The game moved through the rest of the eighth and ninth inning tied. In the bottom of the ninth, Tony Gwynn singled off Lee Smith with one out. Steve Garvey, who had already given the Padres the lead twice that day, hit a towering home run to center field. The Padres walked off with the series now tied.
The Cubs appeared to be putting their slide and cursed history aside early in Game 5. The Cub hitters chased Padre starter Eric Show after less than two innings. They led 3-0 at that point. The Padre bullpen then took control of the game.
For the final 7.2 innings of the game Andy Hawkins, Dave Dravecky, Craig Lefferts, and Rich Goosage held the Cubs without a hit. They allowed just one base runner and struck out six.
The Padre offense got going in the bottom of the sixth. They loaded the bases against Rick Sutcliffe and then back-to-back sac flies made the score 3-2.
In the bottom of the seventh, things came apart for the Cubs. Sutcliffe walked leadoff hitter Carmelo Martinez. After a sacrifice bunt, Tim Flannery appeared to ground out to first, but Cub first baseman Leon Durham booted the ball. Martinez scored and the game was tied. The Padres then ripped off three straight hits. The 6-3 lead was enough for the dominant Padre bullpen to help the team complete the comeback.
The Padres lost the 1984 World Series to the Detroit Tigers.
1995 Seattle Mariners
When baseball expanded to three divisions in 1994, they added a fourth playoff team in each league via the Wild Card. The first "modern" division series in 1995, thanks to the cancellation of the end of the 1994 season, produced one of the most dramatic five game series in baseball history.
In 1995 the New York Yankees had not reached the playoffs in 14 seasons; the team's longest drought since they became the New York Yankees in 1913. The Seattle Mariners had never approached the playoffs in their 18-year history.
Despite two home runs from Ken Griffey Jr., the Yankees took Game 1.
Game 2 was a 15 inning, five hour marathon, notable for a number of events.
Andy Pettitte pitched seven innings in his first postseason start.
Griffey gave the Mariners the lead with a home run in the top of the 12th. The Yankees tied it in the bottom of the 12th on a Ruben Sierra double which also saw Bernie Williams get thrown out at the plate on what would have been the winning run.
An unheralded rookie named Mariano Rivera pitched 3.1 innings of scoreless relief. Rivera got the win, when backup catcher Jim Leyritz hit a two-run home run off of Tim Belcher in the bottom of the 15th.
Two former AL Cy Young award winners, Jack McDowell and Randy Johnson, faced off in Game 3, the first game in Seattle. Johnson, while not dominant, pitched well enough to help the Mariners to a 7-4 victory. Mariner first baseman Tino Martinez went 3 for 4 with a home run and three RBI.
The Yankees jumped out to a 5-0 lead in Game 4. Edgar Martinez's three-run shot made it 5-4 in the third inning and a Dan Wilson single tied the game in the fifth. Another home run by Griffey gave the M's the lead in the bottom of the 7th.
The Yankees quickly rallied to tie the game in the top of the eighth.
Yankee closer John Wetteland then loaded the bases to start the bottom of the eighth. Edgar Martinez proceeded to hit a grand slam and break the game wide open. Martinez finished 3 for 4 with the two home runs and seven RBI.
Game 5 was a classic.
The Yankees led early, first 1-0 and then 4-1 entering the bottom of the eighth inning. Yankee starter David Cone had thrown 120 pitches entering the 8th inning, but because the Yankee bullpen was so depleted from the Game 2 marathon and the blowout the night before, manager Buck Showalter stuck with Cone.
After retiring the first hitter, Cone allowed Griffey's fifth home run of the series. Cone remained in the game. After recording an out, he walked Tino Martinez and allowed a single to Jay Buhner. The Mariners' much-heralded first-round draft pick and later 1995 September call-up, Alex Rodriguez then pinch-hit. Rodriquez drew a walk in what was his only plate appearance of the series. The bases were loaded. Cone still remained in the game.
Doug Strange was now the hitter. Strange took a 3-2 change-up on the outside of the plate for ball four. The game was tied. David Cone had thrown 147 pitches. He was removed from the game for Mariano Rivera who struck out the next batter for the third out.
The Yankees got their first two runners on in the top of the ninth. Randy Johnson entered the game in relief. Johnson retired the side and the game stayed knotted at four until the top of the 11th inning.
After a walk and a sacrifice, Randy Velarde put the Yankees ahead with a single.
Out of pitchers, the Yankees were forced to stick with Game 3 starter Jack McDowell in relief.
The Mariners started the bottom of the 11th with two straight singles from Joey Cora and Griffey. Edgar Martinez than lined a 0-1 pitch into the left field corner. Cora scored easily. Griffey hustled home from second, beating the throw by Gerald Williams. The Mariners had come back to win the game and the series.
It was an amazing accomplishment for the Mariners. They had trailed in every game they had won, including after the seventh inning in the last two.
Ken Griffey and Edgar Martinez had two of the finest post season stat lines ever seen.
Griffey was 9 for 23 with 9 runs, 5 home runs and a 1.488 OPS. Edgar Martinez was 12 for 21 (.571) with 10 RBI and a 1.667 OPS. Tino Martinez hit .409 and former Yankee farmhand Jay Buhner hit .458.
The Mariners lost to the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS.
1999 Boston Red Sox
The 1999 Red Sox comeback was the first time the new divisional round format came into play. Previous series were played in a 2-3 home and away format. By 1999 baseball had converted to the curernt 2-2-1 format.
Cleveland took Game 1 3-2 when Pedro Martinez left the contest in the fourth inning with shoulder stiffness. Boston's dominant Cy Young Award winner had not allowed a run but, Derek Lowe and the Red Sox’s bullpen could not hold a 2-0 lead.
The Red Sox led briefly in Game 2, before the Indians exploded for 11 unanswered runs (including Jim Thome's second home run of the series).
Back in Boston for Game 3, a back and forth game went to the home half of the seventh tied at three runs apiece. The Red Sox rallied to score six times, led by a Brain Daubach three-run home run, and notched their first win of the series.
Pedro Martinez was unable to start Game 4 because of his ailing shoulder. The Red Sox did not need him. Against Bartolo Colon and five other Indian pitchers, the Red Sox scored 23 times to tie the series.
The series now shifted back to Cleveland. Pedro was again unable to start, but was held in reserve in the bullpen.The Red Sox appeared to need him this time, as another shootout developed.
The Sox led 2-0 after the top of the first but then trailed 5-2, until they rallied for five runs in the third. They now led 7-5 for all of half an hour, because the Indians scored three runs in the bottom of the third to take an 8-7 lead (the comeback was topped by Thome's second home run of the game). The two teams had now scored 45 runs in the last 12 innings.
Pedro Martinez entered the game from the bullpen to start the fourth and quelled the scoring madness. He proceeded to pitch six innings of fantastic no-hit ball, while striking out eight Indians. The Red Sox bats did not fall quiet.
After a Jon Valentin sac fly tied it, the Red Sox went ahead for good when Troy O'Leary hit a three-run blast in the 7th inning. The Red Sox won 12-8 and became the first team to come back from down two games by winning the fifth game on the road.
The Red Sox lost the ALCS to the Yankees.
2001 New York Yankees
The 2001 Yankees were playing in the midst of the tragedy of 9/11. After dropping the first two games at home it looked like the Yankees were done for. Mike Mussina and Derek Jeter had different plans.
Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder had out dueled Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte in the first two games in NY.
Back in Oakland, the A's sent Barry Zito to the hill against Mike Mussina. Both pitchers were fantastic, allowing a combined six hits. Barry Zito made the only mistake when he allowed a Jorge Posada solo home run in the fifth inning.
In the bottom of the seventh, the A's looked set to tie the game when Terrance Long hit a long double down the right field line and Jeremy Giambi raced toward home plate. Yankee right fielder Shane Spencer overthrew cut off man Tino Martinez.
However, Derek Jeter, in his most famous defensive gem, backed up the play and relayed the ball to Posada, who tagged out Giambi at the plate. Giambi mysteriously did not slide on the play.
It was the difference in the game as the Yankees narrowly escaped 1-0.
Game 4 provided much less suspense. The Yankees battered around A's starter Cory Lidle and won easily 9-2.
Back in New York, against Mark Mulder, the Yankees trailed 2-0, when two errors (including a dropped third strike and subsequent throwing error to first) and hit by pitch moved the Yankees ahead by one. Another error in the fifth, on a dropped throw at second when Chuck Knoblauch would have been caught stealing, followed by a sac bunt and sac fly, put the Yanks up 4-2. David Justice provided insurance via a sixth inning home run and the Yankee bullpen held on for a 5-3 win.
The Yankees were the first and only team to come back from a 2-0 deficit in a five game series, after losing the first two games at home.
The Yankees are the only team to blow a two games to none lead and also come back from one.
2003 Boston Red Sox
In 2003 the Oakland Athletics became the first team to twice blow two games to none leads in a best of five series. The Red Sox became the only team to come back from the 2-0 deficit twice.
The A's had held the Boston bats in check in Oakland during the first two games.
The Red Sox eked out a Game 3 win in 11 innings when Trot Nixon blasted a walk-off home run.
The Red Sox needed more last at-bat heroics in Game 4.
Trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning against A's closer Keith Foulke, David Ortiz hit a two-run double to move the Red Sox in front by one.
Sox's closer Scott Williamson retired the side in the ninth and since he had also pitched the eighth, got the win for the second time in as many games.
In Oakland for Game 5, the A's scored a run off of Pedro Martinez to take a 1-0 lead. In the top of the sixth, the Red Sox's Jason Varitek and Manny Ramirez both hit home runs off Barry Zito to move the Red Sox in front 4-1. The A's scratched out two more runs against Pedro, including one in the eighth inning, to narrow the score to four to three.
In the bottom of the ninth, Scott Williamson almost allowed the A's to come all the way back.
Williamson walked the first two hitters. He was then replaced by Derek Lowe. After a sac bunt moved the runners to second and third, Lowe struck out pinch hitter Adam Melhuser. Lowe then walked Chris Singleton to load the bases.
The A's and possibly the Red Sox season came down to Terrance Long. With the bases loaded and two outs, his team down by one run, in an all or nothing game five, Long took a borderline 1-2 pitch and was called out by home plate umpire Tim Welke. The Red Sox had escaped.
In the ALCS the Red Sox lost in dramatic fashion to the New York Yankees, four games to three, when Aaron Boone hit an extra-inning home run in Game 7. One year later, against those very same Yankees, the Red Sox completed the only three games to none comeback in baseball history.
There hasn't been an LDS that went five games since NYY/LAA in 2005. There have only been two since 2003 across 24 series.
Since 1969 there have been exactly 100 best of five series in baseball. In 10 of those series a team has trailed 2-0 and and come back to force a Game 5. In seven of those 10 series the team previously down two games won the deciding Game 5 showdown.
The '72 Tigers, '81 Brewers, and '81 Phillies came back from down 2-0 only to lose Game 5.
There have been 36 sweeps by teams which led two games to none.
Despondent fans in Minnesota, Cincinnati, and Tampa Bay should remember the examples of the previous teams.
Miracles have happened before in a best of five series. We are overdue for another one.