It’s been a long time, baby (bears)

On the surface, it may not seem like such an interesting story: the National League’s best team (and consensus preseason pick to win the World Series) will play tonight against the American League’s second-best team in game 1 of the 2016 World Series. But it’s incredibly unlikely, given the two teams representing their respective leagues.

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The AL champion Cleveland Indians, the class of the Central division from 1995-99, are making their first World Series appearance since their heartbreaking seven-game (extra innings in game 7, of course) loss to the Florida Marlins in ’97. They also appeared in the 1995 Fall Classic, their first postseason participation since being swept by the New York Giants in ’54. Their only titles came in 1920 and 1948; the ensuing 67 year drought is the second-longest streak in baseball.

The longest, every decent fan knows, belongs to the Chicago Cubs. Not only does their title deficiency stretch all the way back to 1908 (107 years!), they haven’t even appeared in the World Series since 1945. Game 7 was played October 10, just over one month after V-J Day–the official end to World War II.

A jubilant American sailor clutching a white-unifo

Cubs fans celebrating their latest National League crown. Or so I’m told…

Obviously, it would be too easy to put this historical awfulness in perspective by comparing modern amenities and conveniences with those available in ’45. “Gah! No smartphones?! What sort of cultural backwater was that?” “Forty-eight states? What’s up with that?!” “Politicians trying to drum up support among the electorate by singling out people different from them? Appalling!” (Okay, so that second example technically started in ’47. But, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and all that, amirite?).

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Instead, I thought it would be a little more fun and obscure to do so with baseball-specific trivia. So, without further, potentially one last jab at the expense of the Cubs and their fans.

  • Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon (b. 1954) wasn’t born yet.
    former-angel-obvs-the-dallas-p

    Uncle Joe with the letter ‘o’

    Same for owner Tom Ricketts (b. 1963). Maddon’s predecessors (Rick Renteria, Dale Sveum, and Mike Quade) weren’t born yet, either. Lou Piniella was 2 when the Cubs last represented the NL in the World Series. The last Cubs manager to likely have any memory of their participation was Don Zimmer (b. 1931); he was fired from that position in 1991.

  • Interleague play wasn’t even a faint glimmer in Bud Selig’s eye; in fact, he turned 11 the summer of the Cubs’ most recent postseason success.
  • The AL wouldn’t adopt the designated hitter, forever rendering that league inherently inferior to the NL, for another 28 years.
  • The streak turned 13 shortly after current commissioner Rob Manfred was born (1958).
  • Blacks were still banned from baseball in 1945. To put it another way, 69 years after Jackie Robinson integrated MLB, Chicago will finally have a black player appear in the World Series. Way to be behind the curve! Dexter Fowler (assuming he leads off for the visitors’ half of the first) will be the first; Addison Russell will also likely start, but Jason Heyward is a toss-up, considering he started NLCS game 6 on the bench and has had an all-around miserable postseason (.071/.133/.179). For whatever it’s worth, Cleveland’s Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the AL less than three months behind Robinson and appeared in the ’48 World Series.
  • Among its 16 member franchises, MLB had two teams in Boston, three in New York, two in Philadelphia, and two in St. Louis. Those four cities used to make up 56.25% of the league’s teams; now it’s 16.67% (5 of 30). Only the Red Sox, White Sox, Cubs, Cardinals, Tigers, Phillies, Pirates, Reds, and Yankees still play in the same metropolitan area.
  • The Boston Red Sox ended their futility (1918-2004) and have won the World Series three times (2007 and ’13, too)! Even Chicago’s south-siders, whose previous triumph came in 1917, won it all in 2005.
  • Six expansion franchises (est. 1962-present) screen-shot-2011-09-23-at-11-32-13-amhave won the World Series:
    • Mets in 1969 and ’86
    • Royals in 1985 and 2015
    • Blue Jays in 1992 and ’93
    • Marlins in 1997 and 2003 (see inset)
    • Diamondbacks in 2001
    • Angels in 2002
  • The clock on the NL’s second-longest title drought, belonging to the Giants, began ticking with their win in 1954 and lasted until their recent string of success started in 2010.
  • Connie Mack would manage the Philadelphia Athletics for another five seasons. He was born in December 1862, during the American Civil War. The Battle of Antietam had just been fought the previous fall, and Gettysburg was still over six months away.
  • Ty Cobb was baseball’s career hits leader, with 4189; Pete Rose would not surpass that mark until forty years later, in 1985.
  • Babe Ruth was baseball’s home run king, holding both the single season record of 60 (he’s now 8th on that list) and career mark of 714 (3rd).
  • Walter Johnson held the record for the lowest single season ERA recorded in the post-dead-ball era (1919-present): 1.49 in 1919. Any good Cards fan knows Bob Gibson was the first (and only) pitcher since to come in below that number, when he posted his remarkable 1.12 in 1968.
  • George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns laid claim to the longest hitting streak in baseball’s modern era, beginning in 1901, with hits in 41 consecutive games in 1922.
  • Lou Gehrig was still baseball’s “iron man,” and would be for another forty years.
  • Only three perfect games had been tossed since 1901; the current count is at 21.
  • The Yankees had already won ten World Series, and lost four more. Seventy-one years later, the Cardinals are the only franchise to have made it to double-digits, which they accomplished in 2006. To this day, only four other franchises (Giants, Cardinals, Dodgers, and A’s) have even appeared in at least fourteen Fall Classics.
  • The Red  Sox, Giants, White Sox, and Cubs are the only franchises that had won a World Series when the Cubs won their latest and last in 1908.

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Care to take any other cracks at the Cubs’ futility? Comments on this matter are most definitely encouraged below.

Head-to-head in the World Series

I thought of a couple of fun ways to look at historical head-to-head match-ups in the World Series, dating all the way back to 1903.  As I’d been looking at different Fall Classics, especially prior to expansion in 1962, it became apparent that the Yankees had faced off against their former cross-town rivals in the Giants and Dodgers quite frequently, and had come out on top way more often than not.

In fact, for the first table, I was toying with a couple of different ways to portray it.  I initially conceived of this as a “Yankees vs. the NL” thing, but figured, while 40 is fun, 100+ is better, especially when over half the Yankees appearances have been against the Cardinals, Giants, and Dodgers.  Next up was whether to put all the NL teams on one axis and the AL on the other.  Fortunately, for the sake of cleanliness, the flip-flopping Brewers and Astros have yet to make an appearance as the representative for each league.  More importantly, though, was that by using this method, I couldn’t as cleanly portray the record between the two teams, just the overall number of meetings.

As such, I elected to put all teams on each axis.  After I completed the tally, I eliminated the Mariners and Nationals as they have 0 appearances, as well as the six further teams with no World Series wins from the vertical axis (column A), and the four additional teams with no losses from the horizontal (row 1).  To read it, a number in a box corresponds to the number of wins by the franchise in column A against that in row 1.  So, looking at box C16, you see a ‘1;’ this indicates that the Mets (the team in A16) have one World Series title at the expense of the Orioles (the team in C1).  Moreover, if you look all the way to the end of row 16, you’ll see that the Mets have 2 World Series wins, while the O’s have 4 losses in the Fall Classic.

Some other observations:

  • The Yankees have won 8 of their 27 titles against the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers/Robins.  Only the Yankees, Cardinals, and A’s have more than eight World Series championships
  • Overall, the Yankees have owned teams that, in the past or present, occupied or occupy real estate in the New York metropolitan area.  They’re a combined 14-5 against the Dodgers, Giants, and Mets franchises.  That leaves a *mere* 13-8 record (.619 winning percentage) against all other opponents, which is still more titles than anyone else has; of the nine other franchises with at least nine World Series appearances, only two (the Red Sox and Athletics) can boast a higher winning percentage.
  • Of the twelve franchises to have faced the Yankees in the World Series, only the Diamondbacks (1-0), Marlins (1-0), and Cardinals (3-2) have won more championships head-to-head.
  • Of the nine teams whom the Cardinals have faced, only the Royals and Twins (1-0, each) have winning records.

Taking that a step further, I thought it would be fun to see how metropolitan areas, regardless of league affiliation or franchise, stacked up against one another.  After all, Milwaukee has seen more World Series than the one their expansion team contested.  And while Washington, D.C.’s current franchise has yet to make it to the World Series, they’ve had a few appearances over the years, albeit long, loooooooooong ago.  Boston, Philadelphia, and St. Louis all had multiple teams at one time or another, and you need several hands to be able to count the number of times New York teams have squared off against one another.  I elected to omit Seattle and Montreal from the list entirely, as those cities haven’t seen any sweet World Series action in their respective runs as big league towns.

  • New York franchises have faced one another 14 times.  That means 12.6% of all World Series contested to this point have featured two teams from that area.  These match-ups notwithstanding, New York teams are 21-19 in the World Series.  Doing some *tricky* addition here, that’s 14+14+21+19, or 68 of 222 World Series participants from the Big Apple–30.6%!
  • The only other metro area with at least 10 World Series titles?  St. Louis.
  • Chicago is 4-9 against other towns.
  • New York teams have faced all current and past major league metro areas except for Dallas (Texas), Denver (Colorado), Detroit, Houston, Minneapolis, Tampa, and Toronto.  It blows my mind just a little bit that the Giants, Dodgers, and Mets have never faced the Tigers in the World Series.  Everyone else isn’t all that surprising given that they came into existence after New York ceased to be a three-team town.
  • Of cities that have had or currently have multiple franchises simultaneously, Boston, LA, and Philadelphia didn’t get to revel in a cross-town title tilt; Chicago, New York, St. Louis, and the Bay Area all have.
  • While the Braves franchise has managed to win 3 championships, only one has come in Atlanta; if you remember the team’s run in the ’90s, that helps explain why the city is a disappointing 1-6 in the Fall Classic.
  • No big surprise that Miami, Toronto, and Phoenix are the only cities to have contested a World Series without a loss; the former two are 2-0, the latter 1-0.

The Mets’ chances

A loss last night, due in no small part to defensive and offensive miscues, has put the New York Mets on the brink of elimination, down three games to one against the Kansas City Royals.

(sean m haffey / getty images)

Game 5 is tonight at Citi Field, while games 6 and 7, if necessary, will be at Kauffman Stadium.  At this point, the Mets can only win in seven games, but I was curious how many teams had won a best-of-seven series in the Fall Classic after being down 3-1 and lacking home-field advantage.  Luckily, I already had this spreadsheet at my disposal.

Going through that, I’m essentially looking for a 7-game series in which the road team wins the final two games after winning game 5 at home.  The two most recent series to match the first criteria, 2014 and 2011, don’t fit the other one pertaining to home-field advantage.  In fact, initially skimming back over the past few decades, it seems like it may be an impossible task facing the Mets.  But you may recall from my most recent piece that home-field-advantage prior to the 1970s wasn’t what it is today.

+ 1979: Pittsburgh Pirates def. Baltimore Orioles – The O’s won game 1 at home, lost game 2 there, but then picked up games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.  Pittsburgh turned the tables and won the next three games: one at home, and the final two in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.  They outscored the Orioles 15-2 over those three games.

+ 1968: Detroit Tigers def. St. Louis Cardinals – Cards took game 1 at home, lost game 2 at Busch, then bounced back in games 3 and 4 at Tiger Stadium.  The Tigers survived three first-inning runs by the Cardinals in game 5 and win 5-3, then blow out the Redbirds by a combined score of 17-2 in games 6 and 7, both back in St. Louis.

+ 1958: New York Yankees def. Milwaukee Braves – This one would be most akin to this year’s scenario.  The home-field advantage-possessing Braves won games 1 and 2 at Milwaukee County Stadium (including an extra innings affair in the debut tilt); the Yankees won game 3 at home, but the Braves took game 4.  New York won game 5 at Yankee Stadium, then swept the final two in Milwaukee to clinch the series.

And that’s it, at least dating back to 1924.  In the ninety World Series contested since then, 35 have gone the full seven games.  And only three times has the team lacking home-field advantage fallen behind 3-1 at home, only to storm back and win the final three games–8.57%.  So things aren’t looking too great for the Mets right now.  On the other hand, if they could pull it off, well, that would be historic.

Historical home-field advantage in the postseason

In my two previous posts on home-field advantage, I noted how, over baseball’s history (since the first decade of the 20th century), the home team wins about 54% of the time.  That got me thinking: with all the arbitrary home-field designations in MLB’s postseason history, is that pretty accurate?  Is it significantly better?  Worse, even?

Given any potentially significant advantage it provides, should it really be assigned based on something as arbitrary as whether it’s an even- or odd-numbered year or the All-Star Game result?  I understand that they try to decide this months in advance so that travel plans and ticket sales are more readily accommodated.  As to the former (and I’m pretty sure they do this already anyway), the league can reserve blocks of rooms in hotels in any potential city; as to the latter, it wouldn’t be that much more inconvenient to sell World Series tickets for all seven games in a single ballpark, and simply refund those that aren’t played there (same as if a team doesn’t advance).

In my estimation, we have three different eras to consider when looking at the World Series and, more specifically, the home-field advantage thereof:

  1. 1924 – 1968 | MLB first standardized the 2-3-2 format in ’24.  Prior to that season, the New York Yankees and Giants contested the three previous World Series, with the home team alternating from one game to the next.  On other occasions in the World Series’ first two decades, baseball employed the 3-4, 2-3-2-1-1 (best of nine), and 2-2-1-2 (in which three of the first five games are played at the the “other” ballpark, but games 6 and 7 are reserved for the team with home-field advantage).  I use ’68 as the demarcation, as 1969 added two franchises in each league; with it came two divisions in each league, which resulted in a league championship series on each side, thereby enabling a team other than the one with the best record in each league to make the World Series for the first time.  Two exceptions to the otherwise hard and fast 2-3-2 / alternating home-field advantage:
    1. The Detroit Tigers wound up with home-field in both ’34 (in which they lost to the Cardinals in 7) and ’35 (beat the Cubs in 6), with the NL representative claiming the benefit in ’33 and ’36 (NL teams hosted in even-numbered years until the strike in ’94, and the Braves hosted game 1 in ’95).
    2. During World War II, due to travel restrictions, baseball adopted a 3-4 format in 1943 and ’45.  This is noteworthy for two reasons: (a) the 1944 Streetcar Series between the St. Louis Browns and Cardinals, in which all games were played at Sportsman’s Park, and (b) despite playing game 1 at home both years, the AL representative would have wound up actually playing fewer games in both series at home, meaning that the NL actually held home-field advantage between 1942 and 1946.  Strangely enough, the AL teams won in those two odd-numbered years anyway.
  2. 1969 – 2002 | The latter year was the last in which home-field advantage in the World Series alternated between the National League representative and that of the American League.
  3. 2003 – present | 2003 was the first year in which the outcome of the All-Star Game determined home-field in the World Series, wherein the league champion whose side won the Midsummer Classic receives home-field advantage in the World Series.  In theory, this should give the advantage to the better side (while simultaneously making the All-Star Game more intriguing by giving fans and talking heads something to bemoan every July and October), because if the best team from the better league makes it, then they deserve it.  I’m still not buying it, Bud.

Here’s what I learned.

  • Between 1924-1968, the home team in any given game was far less likely to win than since 1969 (.523 vs. .619 for the “middle ages” and .587 for the present format)
  • Since 1924, the World Series has been clinched at home 43 times; the winner actually wrapped up the title on the road 47 times.
    • 2003 – present: Five at home vs. seven on the road
    • 1969 – 2002: 19 vs. 14 (only 33 World Series contested, not 34, due to the strike in 1994)
    • 1924 – 68: 19 vs. 26
  • The team in possession of home-field advantage won the World Series 54 of 90 times over the period in question
    • 2003 – present: 8-4 (which doesn’t bode well for the Mets this year, unless you consider their opponent became the fourth such loser a year ago)
    • 1969 – 2002: 21-12
    • 1924 – 68: 25-20 (I’m including the aforementioned 1943 and ’45 seasons, in which the Yankees and Tigers, respectively, *had* home-field advantage, but would have wound up playing fewer games at home in a seven game series, which actually was the case for Detroit.  Fortunately, they faced the ever-inept Cubbies); or 23-20 if you don’t count those two wartime series
  • Overall, 44 of the 90 World Series contested since 1924 were won by the team with the inferior regular season record
    • 1924 – ’68: the better regular season team won 25 of 45
    • 1969 – 2002: the lesser team actually won 18 of 33
    • 2003 – present: each “group” has won six apiece
  • There was a bizarre stretch from 1955-58 in which all four series went a full 7 games; even more Twilight Zone-y was the fact that the visiting team won each of these decisive games
  • The only possible way for all games in a series, regardless of length, to go the way of the home team, is in a seven-game set (a six game series in the 2-3-2 format yields 3 home games apiece and, therefore, a 3-3 tie; a five game series has the non-home-field team up 3-2; a four game sweep, necessarily, has the home team winning two and losing two).  This has only occurred three times in the ninety Fall Classics I surveyed:
    • 1987: Twins over Cardinals
    • 1991: Twins (!) over Braves
    • 2001: Diamondbacks over Yankees
  • Never (at least since ’24) has a World Series been contested in which the road team won all seven games; as with the scenario above, it’s impossible for a 1-6 record by the road team.  The worst performance by the home team in a given series was in 1996, when the Yankees famously dug themselves an 0-2 hole at home, then won three in a row in Atlanta before finishing the Braves off at Yankee Stadium in game 6 for an overall 1-5 record by the home team.
  • Conversely, on four occasions between 1955 and 1971 did the home team lose a single game in a series that went the distance.  The only way this could play out is for the home team to win the first six–so, a 3-3 tie heading in to game 7–only to have their visitors “steal” game 7.  The Yankees and Dodgers did precisely that to one another in ’55 and ’56.
  • Speaking of the Yankees and Dodgers, they’ve played one another a lot.  Eight times from ’24 until the expansion in ’69, and three times since, mostly recently in ’81.

Maybe I’m crazy, but the 46-32 record (.590) of teams holding home-field advantage from 1924-2002 was absurdly high considering the team receiving this benefit did no more to obtain it than effectively win a coin toss.  Over that same period, the home team in all World Series contests went 258-200, a .563 winning percentage.  And while we don’t have anywhere near as large a sample size for the “this one counts” era, the team holding home-field advantage has won two-thirds of the titles contested, while the home team is 37-26 (.587) over the same span.

Given the apparent impact that playing at home in the postseason has had, even compared to the regular season (.566 vs about .540), it’s good that baseball moved away from the rotating system they employed prior to 2003.  But I’m not so certain that using the All-Star Game as a reward is the best option, either.  I’m sure things would have shaken out a little differently over the past 90 years if the team with the better regular season record hosted the first two and last two games of the World Series.  And with the expansion of the postseason to include a greater number of teams with inferior records, MLB may want to take a second look at the way blitzing through the regular season has practically lost its incentive.

all stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com

An update on postseason home-field advantage

With the conclusion of both league championship series last week, the winning percentage for the home team during this postseason got closer to the historical average of 54% (or.540) that I mentioned in this post.  This was due almost exclusively to the home team in the ALCS between the Royals and Blue Jays winning five of their six contests, thereby flipping the winning percentage of the home team on that side of the bracket from a measly .364 (4-7 record) to a more accurate .529 (9-8).

In the NLCS, with the Mets winning all four games–two at Citi Field and two at Wrigley, that league’s home team winning percentage stayed at an even .500 (5-5 to 7-7).  Of slightly greater interest is the fact that the Mets were the first NL team with home-field advantage in their respective series to actually win said series this year.

Through the LCS round, home teams possess a cumulative record of 16-15 this postseason, a .516 winning percentage.  If the home team wins all seven games this World Series (a Royals championship), that stretches the advantage to a .605 winning percentage.  Conversely, seven home losses (therefore, a Mets title) spells a .421 winning percentage.  A 4-2 record by the home team this series would bring the record to 20-17, a .541 winning percentage.  Pretty cool, eh?

Happy 30th anniversary, Don Denkinger!

Even though I have no recollection of anything that happened in 1985, that year’s Fall Classic is definitely a sore subject among St. Louis Cardinals fans, especially those old enough to remember how it unfolded.  To make matters worse, their sole World Series championship is literally the only thing that Kansas City Royals fans can brag about when talking baseball with their brethren to the east.  And I don’t mean “literally” in the same sense as when someone claims they can “literally drink an ocean.”  This one is real, because what else do they have?  Titles #2-11?  Hall of Famers?  Stadium location?  Attendance, ownership, etc., etc., etc…

I also hope this doesn’t come across as sour grapes, the way Cardinals fans joke about Cubs fans blaming their team’s epic collapse in the 2003 NLCS on Steve Bartman.  Perhaps I’m a homer, but game 6 of the 1985 World Series is a wee bit worse because it was an umpire and not a fan of the team getting screwed; because if it occurred in exactly the same fashion today, the game’s outcome would have almost certainly been different.

To set the stage: the Cardinals held a 3-2 advantage, despite having only scored 11 runs all series, heading in to game 6 at Royals (now Kauffman) Stadium.  One more win would clinch St. Louis’ 10th World Series title and 2nd in four seasons.

Danny Cox of the Cardinals and Charlie Liebrandt of the Royals had been dealing all game long.  Cox scattered 7 hits and allowed 0 runs in 7 innings; his pinch-hitter, Brian Harper, gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead with 2 outs in the top of the 8th.  Ozzie Smith subsequently walked to load the bases against KC, who pulled Liebrandt in favor of closer Dan Quisenberry.  “Quiz” got Willie McGee to ground out to keep the deficit at 1 run.

Ken Dayley, on in relief of Cox, retired the Royals without much ado in the bottom of the 8th.  Quisenberry, similarly, allowed one man aboard in the top of the 9th, but the Cardinals failed to widen their lead.

Manager Whitey Herzog turned to late-August call-up (and future closer) Todd Worrell over Jeff Lahti, who had pitched 2 innings in a 6-1 loss two nights prior.  At the start of the inning, the Cardinals had about an 80% chance to hold the Royals lineup in check and win the game and the championship.  The Royals’ first batter, Jorge Orta, hit an 0-2 bouncer to the middle-right side of the infield; Jack Clark fielded the ball and threw to Worrell, who was covering first for Clark.  Replays immediately indicated Worrell had beaten Orta by a half-step. None of that mattered, as first-base umpire and crew chief Don Denkinger called the Royal safe and further denied any pleas by the Cardinals to overturn the call, which he believed at the time to be correct.

It is likely that the Royals mathematical chances of winning, with 0 runners on base, 1 out, and a 0-1 deficit in the bottom of the 9th, would have sunk from 20% to around 12%.  Instead, with 1 on and 0 out, they leaped to 34%–still not great, but remarkably better than had the correct call been made.  Unfortunately, there’s no accounting for how the remainder of the inning would have played out had Denkinger not erred.  It’s one thing to say that the players may still have gotten the same hits, sacrifices, and outs they did, but there’s no way to know just how the blown call affected the Cardinal rookie.

Steve Balboni’s subsequent single put 2 on with 0 out instead of 1 on with 1 out.  The Royals actually had a 52% chance of winning the game after this play.  Had he singled with 1 out, they would still have likely had less than a 30% chance of winning.

With Orta on 2nd and Orix Concepcion running for Balboni at first, catcher Jim Sundberg laid down a bunt, but Orta was thrown out at 3rd.  “Big deal,” skeptics say.  “That erases the lead runner who benefited from The Call.”  The big deal is that I suspect the Royals would have been less likely to bunt with 1 on and 1 out than with 2 on and 0 out.  The former scenario would likely put a runner at 2nd with the team a mere out away from World Series ignominy; the latter, had it succeeded, would have put runners at 2nd and 3rd, still with 0 outs.

Even with the failed sacrifice attempt, the Royals still had the winning run on base (Sundberg at 1st) with only 1 out, rather than batting with 2 outs.  A double-play would still have won the game for the Cardinals at this point, but….

…okay, so Darrell Porter’s passed ball with Hal McRae at the dish wasn’t a great thing.  Prior to it, the Redbirds still had a 66% chance of winning; after it, they were more likely to lose (54%) than win.  It gifted the Royals the same result had Sundberg’s bunt been successful, albeit with a slightly slower runner (Sundberg) on instead of Orta.

With the tying run standing at 3rd base and the winner at 2nd, and only 1 out, it’s only logical for the Cardinals to intentionally walk McRae.  The only way he can score is if the Cardinals record an out in front of him, so putting him on base isn’t the end of the world.  A ground ball to any base, including home plate, becomes a force out; a game-ending and series-clinching double-play also becomes a possibility once again.

Any attempts to predict the outcome of this game are surely absurd.  A error on the catcher with McRae hitting would still advance the game-tying run to 3rd, but McRae would be facing a 2-0 count with 2 outs.  It’s impossible to think any manager in his right mind would order an intentional walk in that situation.

Unfortunately, back in real life, Dane Iorg, whom the Cardinals had sold to the Royals in May 1984, singled to right field, and Concepcion and Sundberg, who narrowly beat the accurate throw from Andy Van Slyke, both scored and the Royals won the game.

So what of game 7?  After all, it’s not as though the game the previous night had eliminated the Cardinals.  They could still have won the ultimate game, albeit on the road.  I can recall two examples this millennium where teams that lost disappointing 6th games failed to show any backbone in the 7th.  The aforementioned ’03 Cubs seemed to lose any semblance of fight left in them after falling behind for a second time in the final game, in the 5th inning.  The ’11 Texas Rangers, after losing a wild game 6 (though not due to the actions of any umpire or fan), got 2 runs on 3 hits and 1 walk in the top of the 1st, then only managed 3 hits for the remainder of the game, en route to a 6-2 series-clinching win for the Cardinals.

Furthermore, though I’m no Dr. Phil, I suspect that Denkinger’s presence behind the plate for game 7 was more than a little unsettling for Cardinals pitchers.  That would be like putting Steve Bartman in center field and expecting Moises Alou to play nice all throughout game 7.

Ultimately, it’s not Denkinger’s fault the Cardinals lost the 1985 World Series.  Allowing six or more runs in three games, hitting .185, and scoring a mere thirteen runs (a record low for a seven-game series) will generally do that.  Still, as a fan, you can’t help but wonder, “What if?”

Back to the Past

The Cubs have the Mets right where they want them.

“But, Ryan, the Mets have a 3-0 lead on them in the National League championship series!”

Precisely.

Let’s take a little trip down memory lane, back to 2004.  On this date, the Boston Red Sox were preparing for their World Series showdown with the St. Louis Cardinals after having completed the first comeback of its kind in MLB history the night before: a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven postseason series turned in to a 4-3 series win.  And, technically, that memorable game 7 had ended juuuuust after midnight on October 21 (bbref lists a start time of 8:30 and a duration of 3:31, putting the deciding game’s end at 12:01 AM).

Back to the present.  Surely, you say, the Red Sox’ improbable run in 2004 has absolutely nothing to do with this year’s iteration of the Chicago Cubs.  Not so fast.

Obviously, both franchises have/had extraordinarily lost championship droughts.  The Red Sox were staring 86 seasons in the face; they last won it all in 1918, two seasons before their owner sold none other than Babe Ruth to their hated rivals, the New York Yankees.  The Cubs, meanwhile, have been trophy-free since 1908, and haven’t even appeared in a World Series since 1945, the same year the owner of the local Billy Goat Tavern jinxed the Cubs after he and his pet goat were asked to leave a World Series game against the Detroit Tigers.

Both teams finished with win totals in the upper 90s (Cubs: 97; Red Sox: 98) and finished precisely 3 games behind their main rival and division champion (Cardinals: 100-62; Yankees: 101-61), thereby relegating the beleaguered club to the Wild Card (or, in Chicago’s case, the 2nd Wild Card and a one-game playoff).

Both teams defeated the Cardinals in four games in their respective postseasons–the Red Sox, of course, in the World Series and the Cubbies in the NLDS.

Both teams squared off against their respective league’s New York franchise in the LCS and dug themselves an 0-3 hole against said club.

And, really, that’s approximately where the eerie similarities end.  I was hoping, prior to researching this topic, that the Red Sox had beaten the A’s in the ALDS that in ’04, because then I could draw a connection between a former location from that franchise (Kansas City) and the American League’s likely World Series representative this season (Royals).  But it wasn’t to be.  The 2004 A’s finished a game behind the Anaheim Angels, whom the Red Sox swept out of the postseason in the ALDS.

Unfortunately, there were no players from that team who played for this year’s Royals or Toronto Blue Jays.  It would be far too easy to complete a “six degrees of a 2004 Anaheim Angel” with either of this year’s ALCS participants.  After all, a few players suited up for KC and Torotno as recently as two or three seasons ago.  But only four ’04 Angels were still active in 2015, most notably Bartolo Colon for the Mets and John Lackey for St. Louis.

Different managers, too.  I mean, Ned Yost and John Gibbons both played in the majors around the same time as Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who was far and away the most successful of the trio of catchers. Gibbons did catch a handful of games for the ’86 Mets, who prolonged Boston’s misery in that year’s World Series.  But I’ve otherwise given up on trying to connect the 2004 Angels to the 2015 Royals and Blue Jays, geographically, personnel-wise, etc.

Then there’s Theo Epstein and Manny Ramirez.  Epstein was the architect of Boston’s nearly-unprecedented postseason success as the general manager; he has also seemingly resurrected the Cubs in just a few short seasons.  Manny, of course, was a key figure in Boston’s postseason success.  Presently, he serves as a hitting consultant in the Cubs’ organization.  So there’s that.

Back to the future.  Either way, there will be an interesting narrative to write tonight.  Either the Mets will sweep the Cubs out of the 2015 postseason on the date to which Doc Brown and Marty McFly traveled in Back to the Future Part II, in which Marty initially conceives of his sports betting scheme after seeing the breaking news that the long-shot Cubbies won the World Series.  Or they’ll begin their epic turnaround tonight and surge to their first World Series title in 108 years, just as Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale foretold some 26 years ago.