by Rob Joyce
The Yankees aren’t necessarily trying to write history, but they would certainly be adding a chapter to a very short book. After blundering away Game 2 to falling behind 2-0 in the ALDS to Cleveland, a pair of wins in New York by the Bombers has evened up the series and forced a decisive Game 5 at Progressive Field on Wednesday.
Since baseball experimented with a three-round postseason format in 1981, then adopted the measure for good in 1995, only seven teams have overcome 0-2 deficits to win the best-of-five series.
While not the biggest obstacle overcome in a baseball series ever – for the sake of Yankee fans we’ll ignore the 2004 ALCS – here are those seven teams that faced elimination three times, and won:
The most recent team to do it was the Blue Jays, who dropped the first two games at home to the Rangers, including a 6-4, 14-inning marathon in Game 2. A pair of four-run Toronto wins in Texas forced a return to Rogers Centre for one of the most memorable postseason innings in recent memory.
A 1-1 game to begin the inning, Texas scored when a throw back to the pitcher deflected off Shin-Soo Choo’s bat, allowing Rougned Odor to race home from third. Trash was thrown onto the field and players were pulled off the field. Then in the bottom half three straight errors gave the Jays life, leading to Jose Bautista’s epic bat flip homer and the benches then clearing. When all was said and done, it was Toronto 6, Texas 3 to complete the comeback.
Like the Blue Jays and Rangers, the road teams had success in this series between the Giants and Reds. Cincinnati won the first two games in San Francisco, combining to win 14-2. The Giants returned the favor at Great American Ballpark, staving off elimination in Game 3 with a 2-1, 10-inning win then pulling away in Game 4 by an 8-3 final.
In Game 5 the Giants would cap the comeback by doing all of their damage in the fifth inning of a scoreless game. A Brandon Crawford RBI triple and an error made it 2-0 San Francisco before Buster Posey hit a grand slam. The hole was too much for Cincy to climb out of, as the Giants advanced and went on to win the World Series.
Oakland took a 2-0 series lead on Boston with a 12th inning squeeze play to win Game 1 and a strong Barry Zito start to take Game 2. Back at Fenway, Trot Nixon walked-off in the 11th for the Red Sox in Game 3, then David Ortiz began his postseason magic with a go-ahead eighth inning double in Game 4.
Back in Oakland for the decisive Game 5 the Sox only needed one inning of offense, as Jason Varitek hit a solo homer in the sixth to tie the game at 1, then later in the inning Manny Ramirez provided the kill shot with a three-run blast as Boston moved on by a 4-3 final.
The Yankees overcame an 0-2 deficit to stun the Athletics, with a 9-2 win in Game 4 and a 5-3 clincher in Game 5, but history remembers Game 3 as the seminal moment of this series. Jorge Posada provided the game’s only run with a solo home run in the fifth inning off Barry Zito, but even that takes a historical backseat to the seventh inning, when Derek Jeter made “The Flip” to help lock up the 1-0 win.
Cleveland took Game 1 from Boston 3-2 in walk-off fashion, but otherwise this series wasn’t for pitching fans. An 11-1 blowout in Game 2 gave the Indians a 2-0 series lead heading to Fenway, where the Red Sox responded by tying the series in a big way, winning 9-3 and 23-7 (not a typo) in Game 4.
Then in Game 5 it was an offensive show early on. Cleveland led 3-2 after an inning and 5-2 after two full. The Red Sox then used a five-run top of the third to take a 7-5 edge thanks in part to a Troy O’Leary grand slam, only to see Cleveland comeback with a three-run bottom half (are you keeping up?). In short, heading to the bottom of the fourth the game was tied 8-8 when Pedro Martinez entered the game in relief. Six hitless, shutout innings later the Red Sox won 12-8 and advanced.
Dropping the first two games to the Yankees in the Bronx, the Mariners returned to Seattle needing three straight wins at the Kingdome. Randy Johnson dazzled in Game 3, Edgar Martinez’s go-ahead grand slam in the eighth inning catapulted the M’s to a Game 4 win, then Game 5 was a classic.
With New York up 4-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth Seattle was able to scrape across a pair of runs off starter David Cone, forcing extra innings. In the top of the 11th Randy Velarde hit an RBI single to give the Yanks a 5-4 lead. In the bottom half, a Joey Cora bunt and Ken Griffey Jr. single set up the greatest play in Mariners’ history to date: Edgar Martinez’s walk-off double.
Down 0-2, the Dodgers rode their pitching staff to overcome the deficit against the Astros. In Game 3 Burt Hooton went seven strong in a 6-1 Los Angeles win. In Game 4 rookie Fernando Valenzuela went the distance in a 2-1 thriller. Then in Game 5, Jerry Reuss out-dueled Nolan Ryan, as the Dodgers scored three in the sixth inning and it was more than enough. Reuss pitched a five-hit shutout to carry LA to a 4-0 victory that would ultimately end with a World Series title.