There are times where I have to choose between traffic and my desire to annoy a large section of readers. This is not one of those times. By pointing out the teams that have come back from a 2-1 deficit in a best-of-seven postseason series over the last 20 years, I’m appealing to Cubs fans who aren’t quite ready to hate their team yet. They’re the ones who want to believe this still might be the year. Because, dammit, it still could be, and here’s some evidence to back up the claim.
At the same time, this idea will rankle the Dodgers fans who feel happy. Even though they’re in a better spot than the other guys, there’s a scratch scratch scratch from behind the door of their subconscious. They open the door and, oh, great, you idiot, it’s doubt. And it jumped on the couch with muddy paws. Don’t trust a 2-1 lead. You know the Indians weren’t trusting a 3-0 lead just yesterday.
Still, we all think we know how a postseason series is going to go after one team takes the lead. The Cubs after Game 1? Unstoppable. They still had Arrieta to go, and what if Clayton Kershaw’s arm didn’t cotton to that bullpen appearance? It was all Cubs.
And then it wasn’t. And then it sure wasn’t in the game after that.
So in the interest of clicks and trolling, we’ll check out the brief history of teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series. A little-known secret is that most of the teams up 2-1 win, but we won’t discuss that here.
This is a list of the teams that blew it.
2016 NLDS: Nationals lead Dodgers, 2-1
Wait, wait, wait. We’re talking best-of-seven, here. Try harder.
Although this does sure prove both points. And it just happened last week. We thought we knew the eventual outcome of this series, and then baseball happened. You think postseason series are short, but they’re actually very, very long. Especially the seventh inning of Game 5.
2014 World Series: Royals lead Giants, 2-1
Just going in reverse chronological order, I promise. Speaking from experience, though, I was pretty crushed after Game 3. The next game was crucial, obviously, and the Giants went down early. The focus groups were leaning hard on the DISLIKE dial, and it was hard to find a bright spot.
2013 World Series: Cardinals lead Red Sox, 2-1
Oh, the Cardinals didn’t just take a 2-1 lead. They took it on shenanigans.
Yup. That’s me. I suppose you’re wondering how I got into this situation ...
Obstruction was the correct call. Red Sox fans can laugh about it now. But at the time, did that feel like a World Series in the balance, or a World Series that was just decided?
2012 NLCS: Cardinals lead Giants, 2-1
The Cardinals also led them 3-1. Don’t sleep on the symmetry here, either. Throughout this series, Dodgers fans were begging the Cardinals for a little help. The two teams had their disagreements in the past, but the Dodgers would root for the Cardinals as long as they could just beat their blood rivals. It wasn’t much to ask, and all would be ...
Instead, it was Cubs fans who celebrated the purest joy of all: schadenfreude. It was the Cubs fans who were in an unholy rooting alliance with the Giants fans, and now it’s the Giants fans in an unholy rooting alliance with Cubs fans. If the Dodgers win, it’s the Cardinals fans who are prepared to laugh and laugh and laugh, with the Giants fans annoyed at the secondhand incompetence.
At the same time, the comeback should give the Cubs hope. In theory.
2007 ALCS: Indians lead Red Sox, 2-1
Another series that also stretched to a 3-1 lead. You know how it’s going to end up. Just like if the Dodgers win on Wednesday night. The odds are that it’s over.
Here’s a list of teams that beat the odds, except it comes with a caveat. See that gap from 2008 through 2011? There were no surprises in those years, at least after the third game of each series. The teams that went up 2-1 stayed up. There were a couple 3-2 debacles, but that’s a subject for another time.
2004 ALCS: Yankees lead Red Sox, 3-0
Technically not a 2-1 lead, but it works in context.
I want you, dear Cubs fan, to think of what Red Sox fans thought after that third loss. They thought the universe hated them. Possibly because of something they did. That no baseball memory was going to be a lasting baseball memory, that they were inexorably drawn to this sport of ash and tears, even as it would ruin them.
Do you remember what the score was of that Game 3? Red Sox fans do. I’d forgotten, though.
It was 19-8. The Yankees beat the Red Sox, 19-8. It might have been the low point for an entire franchise filled with low points.
And you’re sitting there, moping around your apartment, because the Cubs are down 2-1. Imagine the Cardinals beating the Cubs in the NLCS last year, then imagine the Cardinals beating them 19-8 to take a 3-0 lead just now.
(I haven’t forgotten about you, Dodgers fans. Note that between 2005 and 2012, there was just one team that biffed it after being up 2-1. It’s good to be where you are! It’s very, very good! Don’t answer the door to your subconscious!)
2003 World Series: Yankees over Marlins, 2-1
Was there anything more guaranteed than a Yankees win in this series? After the 2-1 lead, I submit there was not. This was back in the days where we were all convinced that the best baseball team actually won. Thanks, Yankees. Four World Series championships in five years made us figure they had the secret, even after losing in 2001.
It turns out that a team needing to win two more games in four possible chances isn’t guaranteed anything.
2003 NLCS: Cancelled because of locusts
In this very famous example, locusts overran the continent and devoured our crops, which starved millions of people, all of whom we remember and continually pay respects to.
The World Series participants were chosen this year by way of a lottery system.
Please do not use this season as evidence for anything, as that would be grossly unfair and incorrect.
1998 ALCS: Indians over Yankees, 2-1
With a 6-1 lead, the Indians kept a young, pre-jolly Bartolo Colon in to throw a complete game. He wasn’t overworked, throwing just 116 pitches, but at the start of the seventh inning, the Indians had a 96 percent chance of winning the game. Why keep him out there? Why not limit the stress on his arm, bring in some relievers, and save Colon for a possible start on short rest? If needed. Which it certainly wouldn’t be, what with the Indians up 2-1, and all.
Colon didn’t pitch again in the series. And there was a hint of what-if. He was just a 25-year-old sprite, but he was also the best pitcher on the team all year. Maybe if he didn’t overextend himself, the Indians would have gone to him instead of Charles Nagy and his 5.22 ERA in Game 6.
Kenley Jansen, worked harder than he’s ever been worked hard in his career, came out to protect a six-run lead in Game 3. I understood it, but only as the fan of a team that trotted out five relievers to blow a three-run lead last week. Whatever could be gained by momentum, by the bonus points of a shutout, might be given back at a future date, when options are unavailable or unpalatable because of what you did before.
And yet, the odds are so much better when you’re up a game in a best-of-seven postseason series. Soooo much better. Just ask the 2015 Royals, 2014 Giants, 2013 Red Sox, 2012 Giants, 2011 Cardinals, et al, who were all up a game in a best-of-seven series at some point and enjoyed everything working out.
Did you notice those gaps from year to year, Dodgers fans? Oh, I can't troll you. You're so very earnest.
The grand, unified theory of this history lesson: There is so much baseball left. There is so, so much baseball left. And we might know by the fourth inning of Game 4 if it’s the good kind of baseball. Even then, we still might be in the dark. The Dodgers are in a good spot. The Cubs would trade places. But there’s an awful lot of baseball left, as we’ve seen before. A lot of wondrous, glorious baseball, in all its hideous forms.