Being down 3-1 in a seven-game series is no place a team ever wants to be. As you may have heard 500 times between Saturday night and Sunday evening, teams down 3-1 in a seven-game series — World Series and Championship Series combined — have gone on to lose that series 69 out of 81. Not nice.
The Cubs won Game 5, of course, and being down 3-2 doesn’t feel nearly as bad. Still, they have to win Games 6 and 7 on the road and that’s a tall order. There have been six times when a team won the World Series after being down 3-2 and was forced to win Games 6 and 7 on the road. Here are their stories:
Babe Ruth hit four homers — three in Game 4 — and walked 11 times in the seven game series, but the Cardinals made sure he was the only Yankee who hurt them, limiting the Sultan of Swat to just five RBI. Not that the home runs in Game 4 didn’t help someone: that was the day when Ruth, famously and likely apocryphally, promised 11-year-old Johnny Sylvester, sick in a hospital in New Jersey, that he’d hit a homer for him. Not that everything Ruth did in that series was heroic: he just as famously made the last out of game while trying to steal second base. The Yankees were down 3-2 at the time with Bob Meusel at the plate. Meusel hit .315 that year and drove in over 80 runs despite playing in only 100, likely because Ruth was on base all the time in front of him. Ruth had stolen 11 bases that year and had been caught nine times. He said he tried to steal because he thought it would surprise everyone. Sure did.
A back-and-forth series saw the Gashouse Gang down 3-2 heading to Navin Field. In Game 6 Daffy Dean pitched a complete game and drove in the game-winning run with an RBI single in the seventh. In the decisive Game 7, his brother Dizzy Dean came back on one day’s rest after pitching eight innings in Game 5. The 1930s were somethin’ else, man. This one was no contest, however, as the Cardinals torched Tigers starter Elden Auker and and multiple relievers for seven runs in the third en route to an 11-0 win. The game was far more famous, however, for Tigers fans pelting Cardinals left fielder Joe Medwick with fruit and bottles in the bottom of the sixth following a hard slide into third by Medwick in the top half of the inning. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was on hand and ordered that Medwick be taken out of the game to restore peace to the proceedings. One wonders if that decision would’ve been made if it wasn’t a blowout. In other news, the Dean brothers were the winners in all four of the Cardinals victories in the Series.
The Yankees had won the previous three World Series and had beaten the Dodgers in the Fall Classic three times in the previous 11 years. Being down 3-2 heading to Ebbets Field for Games 6 and 7 would not stop the Bombers from claiming their fourth straight crown. In the eighth inning of Game 6 Mickey Mantle hit the first of his 18 World Series home runs, extending the Yankees lead to 3-1. The Dodgers would score in the bottom half, but the game ended 3-2. In Game 7, the Yankees led 4-2 in the seventh but the Dodgers threatened, loading the bases. With two outs, Jackie Robinson popped to the right of the mound. Pitcher Bob Kuzava didn’t break for it and the ball looked like it’d drop in, but Billy Martin raced in from deep second base and made a shoestring catch to stop the rally. The Yankees held on to win.
The 1957 Braves beat the Yankees the year before and faced the Bronx Bombers in a rematch. The Braves took the first two at home before the teams alternated wins in New York, sending it back to Milwaukee for Games 6 and 7. In Game 6 Whitey Ford, on two days’ rest, faced off against Warren Spahn. Ford only lasted an inning and a third, running out of gas in a second inning jam. Spahn, however, 37-years-old and coming off a 290-inning regular season, was still going in the 10th. Not surprisingly, he tired and by the time he was out of the game he had given up two more runs and lost the game. Things were tight in Game 7 as well, with the score tied at two entering the eighth inning. The Yankees mounted a four-run, two-out rally that frame, capped off by a Moose Skowron three-run homer, ending the Yankees, um, one-year World Series title drought.
A reverse of 1934, with the Tigers having to go to St. Louis to beat the Cardinals twice at home. The Tigers didn’t make it easy on themselves in their must-win Game 5 in Detroit, however, falling behind St. Louis 3-0 in the first inning. Maybe they were just rattled by Jose Feliciano’s famously unconventional National Anthem, which took place before this Game. The Tigers rallied, of course, with series MVP Mickey Lolich getting his second win. That shifted things back to St. Louis where Detroit pounded Cardinals starter Ray Washburn in Game 6, sending 14 batters to the plate in the third inning and scoring 10 runs off of Washburn and a couple of relievers. In Game 7 Lolich came back for his third start, facing off against Bob Gibson, who had dominated the National League all year long to the tune of a 1.12 ERA and who had struck out 17 Tigers batters in Game 1 of the Series. He likewise held the Tigers to one run in Game 4 of the Series, while hitting a home run to boot. The smart money was on Gibson and the Cards closing things out, but a string of hits plated three runs for the Tigers in the top of the seventh, helped famously by the usually spectacular Curt Flood misjudging a Jim Northrup fly ball, allowing it to go over his head. The Tigers held on and won their first World Series in 23 years. The one before that: the Cubs’ last World Series loss in 1945.
The 1979 Series looked like the 2016 edition: a split in the AL Park and the road team taking the first two games in the NL Park, putting themselves up 3-1, before a Pirates win forced things back to Baltimore. In Game 6 John Candelaria outdueld future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and the Buccos added four runs late. In Game 7, Willie Stargell capped his co-MVP season and cemented his legend by going 4-for-5 with a single, two doubles, and a two-run homer to lead the Pirates to the title.
Can the Cubs do what those six teams did? To do so they may not need the help of the modern equivalent of a Curt Flood misplay or a Babe Ruth brain lock, but it sure would help. Even if that doesn’t happen — if, instead, Jon Lester‘s long lost brother emerges, makes the roster and pulls a Paul Dean to Jon’s Dizzy, pitching Chicago to victory — a Cubs win, which was going to be historic even if they swept it, will require some pretty big doing.
But it’s been done.