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The 13 Greatest Comebacks in MLB Postseason History

by: Esteban On  Tuesday, October 23, 2012

greatest comebacks baseball mlb playoff postseason history

Well, last night the San Francisco Giants became only the 12th MLB team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series. So the topic for today’s list was a no-brainer: best postseason comebacks in MLB history. It includes all twelve 3-1 comebacks, plus one comeback from a best-of-give series, and while a few of them are obvious because they’re more fresh in our collective baseball consciousness, some of them have probably been forgotten.

In any case, what’s really interesting here is that there are a few teams that appear on the list more than once on the same end of the outcome. The Red Sox, for example, make three appearances, and all on the winning side, while the Royals make two. But even more amazingly, the Cardinals appear four times, and all on the losing side.

Seriously, 33% of all 3-1 comebacks in the history of Major League Baseball have come at the expense of the St. Louis Cardinals. And it’s not even like they are postseason chumps. The Redbirds have won 11 World Series titles (second only to the Yankees) and boast the 5th best World Series winning percentage of any team with more than two appearances. So apparently with this franchise it’s either feast or famine.

But this list isn’t about who lost. It’s about who won. So let’s get started and see who pulled off the biggest postseason comebacks in the history of baseball.

13. Red Sox over Indians (2007 ALCS)

13 red sox 2007 alcs greatest postseason comebacks

We kick things off with a relatively recent series—and a wild one at that. The Sox won Game 1 at Fenway 10-3, but the Indians won the next three by scores of 13-6, 4-2, and 7-3. Of course, the Red Sox followed that by winning three straight of their own—the first in Cleveland, the last two in Boston—by the combined score of 30-5. That put them in their second World Series in four years, which of course they won.

12. Giants over Cardinals (2012 NLCS)

12 giants 2012 nlcs greatest postseason comebacks

Well, here’s the comeback that inspired the list.

The Cardinals looked like the superior team just a few days ago. Last Thursday they won 8-3 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead with Game 5 coming up at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Then they lost the next three games by a combined score of 20-1, committing 4 errors and giving up a whopping 8 unearned runs.

Now, that’s not to say the Giants aren’t good. They are. They played good, sharp baseball, and I wouldn’t hand the Tigers the Commissioners Trophy just yet. It’s just that the Cardinals went from looking like the defending champs (which they were) to looking like the Houston Astros almost overnight. And it was kind of weird.

However…

11. Braves over Cardinals (1996 NLCS)

11 braves 1996 nlcs greatest mlb postseason comebacks

…If you thought the Cardinals collapse against the Giants this year was epic, you should have seen their collapse against the Braves in 1996. After Atlanta won the first game at the old Fulton County Stadium, St. Louis won three in a row to get within one win of the World Series. Then the Braves, who were the defending champs, came roaring back. They outscored the Cardinals over the final three games 32-1, kicking off Game 7 with a big 6-run first inning before plating another 9 and capping the comeback with a 15-0 shutout.

10. Pirates over Senators (1925 World Series)

10 1925 world series senators pirates  greatest mlb postseason comebacks

At #10 we have the very first 3-1 comeback in MLB postseason history. The Washington Senators won the 1924 World Series, then followed that with a 95-58 season to win the AL pennant again in 1925. In the World Series, after splitting the first two games at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the Senators won the next two back in Washington to grab a 3-1 lead.

However, the Pirates won Game 5 in Washington by the score of 6-3, scoring 4 runs in the last three innings, then won Game 6 in Pittsburgh by the score of 3-2 to set up Game 7—which was one of the greatest Game 7s ever.

Washington took a 4-0 lead in the first, but by the top of the 8th the score was tied 6-6. Then Washington took the lead 7-6 in the 8th, only to lose the lead for good when the Pirates scored three in the bottom to the 8th.

9. Red Sox over Angels (1986 ALCS)

9 1986 red sox alcs  greatest mlb postseason comebacks

Here’s a comeback that almost didn’t happen. Up 3-1 in the ALCS and playing Game 5 in Anaheim, the Angels had a solid 5-2 lead heading into the 9th inning. Then Boston staved off elimination by scoring 4 runs to take a 6-5 lead. The Angels tied the game in the bottom half of the inning, but Boston scored again in the 11th to win Game 5. Then they travelled back to Fenway where the Sox wiped the floor with the Angels, 10-4 and 8-1.

8. Giants over Reds (2012 NLDS)

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This is the only comeback from a best-of-five series on this list because it is the only one that truly deserved to be here. Sure, the Padres’ comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the 1984 best-of-five NLCS seems epic because of the Cubs’ World Series drought—haven’t won it since 1908, haven’t been there since 1945—but the reality is that the home team won every game. The Cubs won Games 1 and 2 at Wrigley; the Padres won Games 3, 4, and 5 at Jack Murphy Stadium.

But the San Francisco Giants’ comeback from 2-0 in this year’s division series against the Reds? This one is epic. The Giants lost the first two games at home, then won three in a row in Cincinnati—the first of which was a 2-1 extra innings squeaker.

Now that is a comeback.

7. Royals over Cardinals (1985 World Series)

7 1985 world series denkinger call

In 1985, the 101-win Cardinals had 2-0 and 3-1 leads in the World Series over the 91-win Royals. The Royals then won Game 5 in St. Louis by a score of 6-1 to send the series back to the other side if Missouri for Game 6. And in Game 6, the Cardinals took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the 9th inning. Then came one of the most infamous blown calls in baseball history.

The Royals Jorge Orta, leading off the inning, hit a slow-rolling ground ball to Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark. He fielded it and tossed it to pitcher Todd Worrell, who caught the ball and stepped on the bag before Orta. However, first base umpire Don Denkinger didn’t see it that way. He called Orta safe, and the Royals went on to score two runs to win the game. Then they pounded the demoralized Cardinals 11-0 in Game 7 to win the Royals first and only World Series.

6. Yankees over Braves (1958 World Series)

6 1958 yankees world series  greatest mlb postseason comebacks

Now that we’re into the top 6, we’re in elite comeback territory. Why? Because unlike all but one of the cases we’ve seen so far (#8), each of the these teams had to finish off their comebacks on the road.

First up are the ’58 Yankees. Warren Spahn, Hank Aaron, and the Milwaukee Braves won the first two games of the Series in Mikwauke, then took Game 4 in New York to take a commanding 3-1 lead. But of course, the Yankees had guys like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Bera, and Whitey Ford, so they didn’t go easy. They won Game 5 at Yankee Stadium 7-0, then took Games 6 and 7 in Milwaukee, the latter being won 6-2 thanks to a 4-run eight inning.

5. Pirates over Orioles (1979 World Series)

5 1979 world series pirates willie stargel  greatest mlb postseason comebacks

The 102-win Orioles had home field advantage over the 98-win Pirates in the 1979 World Series, which was a rematch of the 1971 World Series. Then they jumped out to a 3-1 series lead. However, the Pirates won Game 5 in Pittsburgh with a barrage of late runs, then they took Games 6 and 7 back in Baltimore by scores of 4-0 and 4-1 to win their 7th and most recent World Series championship.

4. Tigers over Cardinals (1968 World Series)

4 1968 world series tigers  greatest mlb postseason comebacks

Coming in at #4 we have the fourth and final major postseason comeback that came at the expense of the St. Louis Cardinals. The 1968 Redbirds won fewer games than the Detroit Tigers (97 to their 103), but they were defending champs and, in “The Year of the Pitcher,” they had the best pitcher in baseball: Bob Gibson. So they were considered the favorites—or at least they were once they jumped out to a 3-1 series lead by pounding the Tigers 10-1 in Game 4. But the Tigers clawed their way to a Game 7. And in that game, with the score tied 1-1 in the top of the seventh in St. Louis, Detroit outfielder cracked a deep shot to center field that was initially misjudged by the Cardinals Curt Flood. That resulted in a two-run triple. The Tigers then tacked on another run, and Mickey Lolich finished them off by going the distance for the third time in the World Series—something nobody has done since.

3. Royals over Blue Jays (1985 ALCS)

3 1985 alcs royals george brett  greatest mlb postseason comebacks

The very same 91-win Royals that came back from a 3-1 hole against the 101-win Cardinals in the ’85 World Series also came back from a 3-1 hole against the 99-win Toronto Blue Jays in the ’85 ALCS. And in that series, the Jays had home field advantage. So while the Royals cut the lead to 3-2 with a 2-0 win in Kansa City, they then had to travel to Toronto for Games 6 and 7.

However, the ’85 Royals, who only had one good hitter—George Brett—were apparently the team of destiny that year. So obviously they polished off the Jays in Toronto, 5-3 and 6-2.

2. Marlins over Cubs (2003 NLCS)

2 2003 nlcs cubs bartman play  greatest mlb postseason comebacks

Everybody remembers this one, right? As in 1984, the Cubs got to within one win of their first World Series since 1945. But unlike 1984, where they only got within 8 outs, this time the Cubs got to within 5 outs.

You see, after going up 3-1 on the Marlins, the Cubs lost Game 5 in Miami 4-0. But then they headed back to the “Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field, and in Game 6 they had a 3-0 lead heading to the top of the 8th. And that’s when the wheels fell off. With one out and a man on second, Cubs fan Steve Bartman reached over the wall in foul territory in left field and caught a pop fly—preventing Moises Alou from making the catch. After Moises Alou stomped around like a big baby, pitcher Mark Prior ended up walking the batter. Then he thew a wild pitch (Bartman’s fault). Then Ivan Rodriguez singled a run home (Bartman’s fault). Then Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez committed an error on a double play ball that loaded the bases (Bartman’s fault). Then future-Cub Derek Lee hit a two-run double (Bartman’s fault). Then Kyle Fansworth, the new pitcher, intentionally walked Mike Lowell and gave up a sac fly to Jeff Conine (Bartman’s fault). Then, after another intentional walk—yeah Dusty Baker!—pinch hitter Mike Mordecai hit a three-run double (Bartman’s fault*). Then, finally, future-Cub Juan Pierre hit a one-run single.

Score: Marlins 8, Cubs 3.

The Cubs went on to lose the next game at Wrigley 9-6, this time after only leading 5-3 after 4 innings. The Marlins, of course, went on to win their second World Series.

*In case you couldn’t tell, I’m being facetious. None of this was Bartman’s fault. It’s all on the players—especially Moises Alou for making such a big deal about the pop-up. It’s almost like Moises made a self-fulfilling prophecy with his reaction.

1. Red Sox over Yankees (2004 ALCS)

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#1 is a no-brainer. It has to be Boston’s comeback from 3-0 to win the 2004 ALCS over the Yankees. After all, it’s the only time in MLB history that a team has come back from a 3-0 hole. And the Sox did it against their most hated rival, the team they could never, ever seem to beat, the team that broke the Sox’s hearts with a walk-off home run in Game 7 of the previous ALCS, and who had just pounded them 19-8 to take a 3-0 lead in 2004.

The comeback started with a steal in the bottom of the 9th in Game 4. Dave Roberts replaced Kevin Millar at first after a no-outs walk from baseballs all-time saves king, Mariano Rivera. Then he stole second, Bill Mueller hit a single to tie the game, and the Sox went on to win on a home run by David Ortiz in the bottom of the 12th.

The next night, Boston once again rallied late (the 8th this time) to send the game to extra innings. And once again, David Ortiz got the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 14th. Of course, after that they teams headed back to the Bronx for the final two games. No chance for Boston, right?

Wrong, obviously. The Sox won Game 6 by the score of 4-2, then they jumped all over the Yankees early in Game 7 and won 10-3.

Greatest. Comeback. Ever.




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