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Sunday, October 28, 2012
Well, things look down for Detroit, don’t they? The Tigers are the 24th team to lose the first three games of the World Series, and down three games to none is a rough spot to be in a best-of-seven series. To figure out what might happen, let’s look at the past to see what happened to the previous 23 teams.
Down three games to none
Twenty of them got swept, and the other three lost in five games. Yeah, that’s kinda bad. A 3-20 record in Game Four is rather impressively bleak. The three teams to pull off the win, if you’re curious, were the 1910 Cubs, 1937 Giants, and 1970 Reds, who all, of course, lost anyway.
Well, then again, the World Series isn’t the only type of best-of-seven. There is also the 1985-onward LCS. In those games, nine times a team has dropped the first three games of the LCS. Six of them, alas, were swept. However, the three teams that all won Game Four, also all won Game Five. That’s kinda neat. But two lost Game Six: the 1998 Braves and 1999 Mets.
Famously, the 2004 Red Sox are the only team to storm back from a three-games-to-none deficit to take the series, but I doubt you needed to read this to find out.
Summing it all up, the 32 previous teams that lost the first three decisions in a best-of-seven:
- Went 6-26 in Game Four.
- The surviving six went 3-3 in Game Five.
- The remaining teams went 1-2 in Game Six.
- And the sole remaining squad 1-0 in Game Seven.
For the Tigers, it’s all about taking it one game at a time. If they win Game Four, they'll have Justin Verlander on the hill in Game Five, and then … well, it’s best to take it one game at a time, right?
Three straight without a lead
Actually, there’s another way of looking at this. The Tigers haven’s just lost all three games, they’ve never even led in any of them. Yeah, that makes it worse.
Of those 32 teams that went down zero games to three, how many never led in any contest?
Just six. And one of those, by the way, just happened: the Yankees versus the Tigers in the 2012 ALCS. Obviously, the Yankees not only got swept, they never led in Game Four, either.
In fact, no team that has lost the first three games without even leading have gone on to win Game Four. Five of them never led in Game Four, either. Aside from this year’s Yankees, there are the 1963 Yankees, 1966 Dodgers, 1989 Giants, and 2004 Cardinals, all of whom lost in the World Series.
The “success” story is the 1976 Yankees. After losing the first three games of the World Series to the Reds while always trailing, the Yankees took an early 1-0 lead in Game Four—and then coughed it up in the fourth inning, losing 7-2. That’s the success story.
So, in news that shouldn’t be shocking to anyone, the precedents sure paint a bleak picture for Detroit.
Detroit and there straight games without a lead
One final note. This is just the third time all year the Tigers have lost three straight games without ever leading. It happened to them on April 24-26 against the Mariners and Sept. 7-9 versus Anaheim. Detroit has not played four straight games without ever leading. However, on both April 27 and Sept. 10, the Tigers lost their next game, which is the important part.
Game Three of the World Series is over ... and suddenly, the Series itself almost is.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Giants 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 Tigers 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 (Giants lead series 3-0) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Giants 7 40 4 9 4 6 7 8 2 Tigers 17 5 21 9 42 11 13 14 9 WPS Base: 227.4 Best Plays: 31.6 Last Play: 1.5 Grand Total: 260.5
The most exciting game of this World Series still could not reach the median WPS Index of 300. The culprit is the iron grip that the first team to score (meaning the Giants) puts on the game. No lead in this Series has yet been lost. In fact, in the last seven Giants games, and the last six Tigers games, the first team to score never has relinquished its lead. This goes very far in explaining how their League Championship Series and this World Series have put up such poor WPS numbers.
Anibal Sanchez arguably was the better of the two starting pitchers on the night. He went seven innings, throwing 117 pitches, and allowed only seven baserunners. Ryan Vogelsong didn't get out of the sixth and put nine men on base, including first and second with one out in three of his five complete frames. (The fifth went to bases loaded, one out.) Vogelsong, though, got two key double plays to snuff early rallies and bore down in the fifth to strike out Quintin Berry and induce a pop-up from Miguel Cabrera.
Sanchez, on the other hand, committed the cardinal sin: he bunched his hits, at least two of them. After a solid first, his control in the second deteriorated, not to Nuke LaLoosh levels by any means, but definitely into Ricky Vaughn territory. Several balls went well away from the zone, including a leadoff walk that seriously mattered and a wild pitch that didn't quite. Gregor Blanco's triple mooted the wild pitch, and Brandon Crawford drove Blanco home. This opened, and closed, the scoring for the game.
The bullpens were better than the two very good starters, sealing the decision. Tim Lincecum gave up only a walk and a reached-on-error in his 2.1 innings and is posing a conundrum for the Giants next year. He has struggled badly as a starting pitcher in 2012 but has been dominant in several multi-inning relief appearances in October. My mind goes back to another pitcher who wasn't cutting it as a starter but blew people away in postseason relief appearances and got his team's brass thinking. The year was 1995, and the pitcher was Mariano Rivera.
This is a far more complicated choice. Lincecum had great success starting before this year, something Mariano never had. But "had" might be the operative tense, and it could be that Lincecum could now best be used as an old-fashioned, Rollie Fingers/Bruce Sutter fireman, throwing more than one inning, closing or getting the game to a closer as the situation fits. It would mean a paradigm shift in how to use a $20 million starter and in how to deploy an ace reliever. But that it's possible to propose such radical changes and not be horse-laughed out of the room is one of the most intriguing subplots of the 2012 postseason.
I mentioned an error while Lincecum was pitching. Two batters earlier, the Fox broadcasting team praised Giants shortstop Crawford's fielding, including 19 straight errorless games. This is right where you expect the jinx to kick in, and "kick" was the right word when Delmon Young's grounder eluded Crawford's glove and forced a bad throw to first. Of course, if the hoodoo doesn't happen, you forget they ever talked about it, but where's the fun in commenting on that?
Not that the Fox crew can be too smug in talking about others' errors. The graphics guy made a couple of boners, putting up Berry's playoff numbers with Austin Jackson at bat and hilariously identifying the reliever in San Francisco's bullpen as Gregor Blanco. (It was actually Sergio Romo, who is a loose enough character that you could almost believe he arranged that as a joke.)
There was even a mild Tim-ism tonight. After Buster Posey made a wonderful stab with his glove to corral a way wide pitch by Lincecum, McCarver said that Posey's play took "an awful good set of hands." Yep, a set of hands, all one of them. Buster's right hand might as well have been in another county as far as that play was concerned, but praise, even deserved praise, knows no factual bounds sometimes.
The Detroit fans pulled hard for their club most of the night, but the wear showed late. They poured out a generous bowl of Boo-Berry when Quintin struck out swinging to end the home seventh; Prince Fielder and Andy Dirks got the same treatment for their whiffs in the eighth. I was reminded of Yankee Stadium crowds at the start of the ALCS, showering boos on most of their offensively hamstrung lineup (Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki were maybe the only ones spared; Derek Jeter likewise would have been, had he still been ambulatory.) Comerica Park wasn't as dead as Yankee Stadium got during the sweep, but what went around for the Tigers may be coming around.
The Sunday Fox football schedule got plenty of play during the broadcast, and I noted a certain irony. Late in the afternoon, (Tony) Romo will be throwing against the Giants. A few hours later, it could be (Sergio) Romo throwing for the Giants, to win the World Series.
There's at least one more game to go, but it feels like there's only one more to go. Cross your fingers for some sparks: a bad enough game—say, Game One bad—and WPS will score this as the least exciting World Series ever. I, for one, don't want to see that kind of history.