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October 30, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

Fighting the Impossible Battle

by Jim Baker

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The Death Sentence

The 2004 American League Championship Series notwithstanding, a team down two games to none heading into Game Three of a best-of-seven series is looking at a death sentence if it loses. That's the scenario the Rockies faced on this Saturday past, and to make matters worse they got behind early--by a lot. Perhaps it is moot now, since a loss is a loss, but with Game One's 13-1 blowout and the fact that they were huge underdogs, Colorado was in a position to take one of the great beatings of all time. If nothing else, they avoided that fate. Their near-comeback in Game Three is fairly unprecedented in World Series history.

In fact, no team down two games to none in a World Series has ever dug itself a bigger hole than the Rockies did--falling behind by six--early in Game Three. One team, the 1990 A's, found itself down by the exact same amount at the exact same juncture--middle of the third--but they did not make a game of it the way that the Rockies did. The '90 A's added a run in the home half of the third to make it 8-3, and there was no further scoring.

No team that has entered Game Three trailing two games to none has ever rallied back from a deficit three runs or greater to win. These are the previous examples of teams getting down by at least three runs before six turns at the plate by their opponent:

  • 2004 Red Sox up 4-0 over the Cardinals after five: won game 4-1, and swept Series
  • 1990 Reds up 8-2 over the A's after top of the third, 8-3 after three: won game 8-3, and swept Series
  • 1989 A's up 8-3 over the Giants after top of the fifth, 9-3 after top of the sixth: won game 13-7, and swept Series
  • 1976 Reds up 4-0 over the Yankees after top of the fourth: won game 6-2, and swept Series
  • 1970 Orioles up 4-1 over the Reds after five, 8-1 after six: won game 9-3, and won Series 4-1
  • 1954 Giants up 4-0 over the Indians after top of the third, 5-0 after top of the fifth, 6-0 after top of the sixth: won game 6-2, and swept Series
  • 1940 Yankees up 7-3 over the Reds after top of the fifth: won game 7-3, and swept Series
  • 1938 Yankees up 7-1 over the Cubs after top of the sixth: won game 5-2, and swept Series
  • 1937 Yankees up 4-0 over the Giants after top of the fourth, and 5-0 after top of the fifth: won game 5-1, and won Series 4-1
  • 1932 Yankees up 4-1 over the Cubs after top of the third, Cubs tied game in fourth: Yankees won game 7-5, and swept Series
  • 1910 A's up 8-3 over the Cubs after top of the second, and 12-3 after top of the seventh: won game 12-5, and won Series 4-1

Only one trailing team--the '32 Cubs--managed to at least tie the score. None came back to take the lead, and all went on to lose the game and the World Series, although as we shall see in this next entry a small minority was able to preserve one more scrap of dignity.

The Certain Thing

There are very few sure things in baseball, but there appears to be one outcome we can count on: teams down 3-0 in the World Series will lose Game Four. Jamey Carroll's long drive notwithstanding, the Rockies are just the latest team to cave in this circumstance. Only three times in 21 tries has a team down 3-0 managed to break up the sweep. Those teams are:

  • The 1910 Cubs: Chicago staved off elimination by the Philadelphia Athletics in dramatic fashion, coming back from a 3-2 deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning on a double by Wildfire Schulte and a triple by Frank Chance to tie the score. In the home 10th, Jimmy Archer doubled with one out, advanced to third on a groundout by pitcher Mordecai Brown (who had come on in relief in the ninth), and scored the winning run on a single by Jimmy Sheckard.
  • The 1937 Giants: The Yankees were rolling to what could have turned out to be the most one-sided World Series in history, beating the Giants 8-1, 8-1, and 5-1. In Game Four, however, Carl Hubbell bounced back from his Game One blowup and held the Yankees to six hits. He limited the middle of the Yankees order--Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, and Bill Dickey--to one hit in 12 at-bats, although the hit was a Gehrig solo homer. The Giants scored six times in the second, and cruised to a 7-3 win.
  • The 1970 Reds: It wasn't looking good for the Reds heading into the eighth inning. They were trailing the Orioles 5-3, and were six outs from elimination. Starter Jim Palmer had been just good enough to that point, but he walked Tony Perez and gave up a single to Johnny Bench to lead off the inning, and then gave way to Eddie Watt. Lee May greeted Watt with a three-run homer, and Clay Carroll finished his fine relief outing (3.2 1 0 0 0 4) to close out the win and wreck the sweep.

All three teams lost in Game Five.

Mattingly as Manager

By now you've read that Joe Girardi will be given the job as the Yankees' manager, and that fellow candidate Don Mattingly has left the only team with which he has ever been associated, seemingly in a huff. If Don Mattingly really wants to manage in the major leagues, shouldn't his next step be to become a manager in the minor leagues? What good is another stint as someone else's bench coach or hitting instructor? I still subscribe to the theory that any man who is going to manage a big league team needs to have managed somewhere else beforehand. You can be a great player, a great teacher, a great coach, a wonderful voice in the ear of the manager, but there is no substitute for having been in charge somewhere. I would never hand my team over to someone without minor league or, at the very least, winter league management experience--especially skippering a flagship franchise like the Yankees.

Perhaps a clause in Joe Torre's next contract demands that Mattingly be his replacement when he decides to retire. If so, then latching on as one of his coaches makes sense for him. If not, time's a-wastin'. Of course, the pitfall of heading downward to get managing experience is that you might fail at it and then never get your shot at the bigs. If, instead, your first shot at managing comes in the majors, you avoid the possibility of failing at the entry level and never getting to try on the larger stage. Taking over the Yankees at this juncture means you're going to win 90 games even if you can only barely handle the responsibilities for filling out a lineup card. On the other hand, 90 wins with New York wouldn't warrant a good grade at review time, so it's a double-edged sword. I just think the Yankees job is something you work your way up to after cutting your teeth managing elsewhere.

I realize that managers have succeeded without having done time helming in the minors, but I still wouldn't hand over a big league job to someone who has never called the shots before.

Rodriguez on the Loose

While we're all busy wondering where newly-minted free agent Alex Rodriguez will end up, I have to think that his agent, Scott Boras, knows something that we don't. We've all made mental lists that eliminate more than two-thirds of the franchises as possible new homes for him, and then whittled those lists down further by considering the budgets and needs of the remaining teams. What we're all coming up with is an incredibly short list of clubs that can even afford to pay Rodriguez two-thirds of what he was making with the Yankees last year, let alone more. At this juncture, it appears that Rodriguez is more a holdout than a free agent. It sure looks like he is holding out against the entire sport because its salary structure--which he has been at the top of for the entire 21st Century--has not yet caught up to his demands.

Rob Neyer has discussed the possibility that, with the Yankees removed from the picture, no team can or will meet his demands, and that come Opening Day A-Rod will be unemployed. It's an interesting scenario, certainly, but I can't imagine Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, letting that happen. That actually leads to my point here: Boras must know something. Is there any possible way a man of his cunning would let his most prized commodity walk away from a lucrative contract just to lie fallow? Do we really think that Boras is starting from scratch here, that this is Day Two of Operation Find A-Rod a Job? No. My guess is he's had something up his sleeve for a while now.

The Scariest Movie You'll Ever See

I'm going off-topic here in light of tomorrow being Halloween. I wanted to recommend to you the most terrifying movie I have ever seen. It's not a slasher flick. There is no visible blood or gore. It's not a classic Universal monster movie. It's not even in the horror genre, but it probably should be. It's a movie about a bunch of men sitting around a table having what is essentially a business meeting. They are very calm and very professional, which only adds to the dismaying creepiness of the proceedings. It is their casual matter-of-factness that will make your blood run cold in a way that no teens-trapped-in-cabin-with-a-murderer-loose movie ever will. Remember as you're watching that this event really took place, that this evil is not the concoction of a horror auteur, but is something that actually resides in the hearts and minds of men just waiting for the right set of circumstances to be unleashed again.

(Ed. Note: There's a more readily accessible alternative that is every bit as horrifying.)

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