The Dodgers are close, even after that ninth-inning collapse in Game 4, to capturing their first World Series title since 1988.
With Clayton Kershaw dispelling his often-discussed October difficulties — completing 11 2/3 innings while allowing just three runs between two games — Los Angeles can practically taste it. They have a 3-2 series advantage, a star-studded lineup and just need one more win to knock the proverbial monkey off their collective backs.
But in baseball, if there’s still an out to be played, there’s still a chance. And the Rays don’t need a reminder of that. Just look at Saturday night, faced with a one-run deficit, two outs and a two-strike count on Brett Phillips, a 26-year-old who had never had a postseason hit before.
Then a soft single happened, followed by an error in center and a stumble from Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena as he rounded third, the winning run trapped halfway to home with nowhere to go. Yet at the end of it all, Phillips ran wild in left-center field, arms spread like an airplane, after the cutoff man’s throw home reached the backstop and Arozarena slid in safely.
Craziness can ensue. There’s no scripting it.
“We’ve had good bounce-back wins all year,” center fielder Kevin Kiermaier told the Tampa Bay Times. “If there’s any team who can respond well with their backs against the wall, in a sense, knowing what’s at stake — we’re in a situation now where it’s win or go home — our group is the group to come through when we need it the most.”
So with at least 27 more outs for the Rays to play with, there’s still a chance to flip a 3-2 deficit into a champagne-fueled celebration. That 3-2 deficit is a hurtle, not a death knell — just ask the Washington Nationals. Or the Chicago Cubs. Or the three other teams who flipped a series on its head since the turn of the century.
2019 — Washington Nationals
To reach Game 6 of the 2019 World Series, so much had gone right in earlier rounds for the Nationals. It began with that astonishing come-from-behind wild card win against the Milwaukee Brewers, with an error in the eighth inning allowing the bases to clear in a 4-3 win.
Without that miscue, the rest of a magical postseason run might not have happened. Washington dispatched the Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals — overcoming two National League clubs that tend to end October dreams — and then sucker punched the Astros with two wins in Houston to open the Fall Classic.
But the Astros hit back, winning three straight games at Nationals Park to deflate whatever anticipation fans might have built. So, heading back to Minute Maid Park, Houston held that 3-2 edge, one win from a second title in three seasons.
The Nationals had other ideas, though, and with Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto at the top of their form — and Stephen Strasburg out-pitching Justin Verlander for the second time — they rattled off the final two wins to claim their first championship.
2016 — Chicago Cubs
Droughts don’t last 108 years unless good can swiftly turn to bad for an organization. So, naturally, the Cubs faced a more difficult situation to come back from in the World Series than the other teams on this list.
After tying the series at one game apiece, Chicago dropped the next two to the Cleveland Indians, setting up an elimination game inside a hushed Wrigley Field. They wound up having plenty to cheer about.
Ending a 108-year drought, of course, takes talent. It takes some luck, too.
The Cubs got both, reversing a 3-1 series deficit by snatching the next three games, tempering comeback attempts from the Indians and even recovering from a monumental two-run jack from Rajai Davis in the eighth inning to tie Game 7 against Aroldis Chapman.
With a 10th-inning run-scoring double from Ben Zobrist, the ghosts of Octobers past vanished for the Cubs. And Chicago, on the verge of another slip-up, proved down doesn’t mean out.
2011 — St. Louis Cardinals
Perhaps it was the spirit of the famed Rally Squirrel, or perhaps the Baseball Gods didn’t want Albert Pujols’ Cardinals career to end with a loss. Whatever it was, though, came together to become one of the most thrilling elimination games in recent memory.
Trailing the Texas Rangers by two runs in the ninth inning of Game 6, Pujols stepped to the plate. He roped a double into left-center field, and Lance Berkman would follow with a walk to put the tying run on base. Then David Freese, down to the final strike of the game, sent a game-tying triple off the right-field fence.
After both teams put up a two-spot in the 10th, Freese came back in the 11th to crush a home run to straightaway center field, forcing Game 7. And with Chris Carpenter on the mound for that deciding finale, the Cardinals claimed a championship and erased a 3-2 series deficit in dramatic fashion.
2002 — Anaheim Angels
All the San Francisco Giants needed were eight more outs — eight more outs and the World Series title was theirs. They held a 5-0 lead over the Angels. That’s when Giants manager Dusty Baker — remember him? — decided to pull starting pitcher Russ Ortiz for Félix Rodríguez.
The series changed in that moment.
Scott Spiezio sent a three-run shot into the right-field seats, plating the two runners Rodríguez had inherited from Ortiz. And in the eighth inning, a solo shot and two-run double did the trick to preserve the Angels’ chances in the World Series, evening the series at 3-3 before they finished the job in Game 7.
2001 — Arizona Diamondbacks
In a series of ebbs and flows, featuring three straight New York Yankees wins to push the Diamondbacks against the wall, it came down to Mariano Rivera on the mound to close out the ninth inning of Game 7.
Only this time, it wasn’t the Hall of Famer who closed out another Yankees championship. Instead, at the end of a game in which Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson all took the mound, a bloop hit from Luis Gonzalez that barely reached the outfield grass was enough to secure a World Series title.
So when the Rays take the field Tuesday night for an elimination game, overcoming a 3-2 series deficit is bound to be a difficult prospect. But in baseball, it’s not over until all 27 outs are accounted for.
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