Only Mostly Dead

Yesterday, I talked about how the Angels are overrated and it would be an upset if they beat the Red Sox in their AL Division Series. Then, the Angels went out and lost 8-3 to fall into a 2-0 hole in the best-of-five series. Time to pencil the Red Sox into the ALCS, right?

Not so fast. Red Sox fans know better than anybody that a team that wins the first two games in a five-game series isn’t a lock to win that series. Four times a team has come back from down 2-0 to win the series — the 1995 Mariners, 1999 Red Sox, 2001 Yankees and 2003 Red Sox.

In nine years, exactly 20 division series have begun with one team winning the first two games. In 65 percent of those series, the same team won the third game for a sweep. In 20 percent, however, the other team won three in a row.

Compare that to the 0 percent of teams that have overcome a 3-0 deficit and you can see that one feat is nearly impossible while the other is merely difficult. Of course, the Angels are in the more difficult position of overcoming a 2-0 deficit after losing the first two games at home. Only one team has accomplished that — the 2001 Yankees.

What’s the key to coming back from two games down? Strange occurrences.

In 1999, the Red Sox lost a close Game 1 in which Pedro Martinez left early with an injury and then got blown out in Game 2. The Red Sox were losing Game 2 1-0 after four innings, but Cleveland starter Dave Burba soon got injured. Nine runs in the next three innings gave Boston a 9-3 win.

In Game 4, Mike Hargrove decided to bring Game 1 starter Bartolo Colon back on three days rest. Bad idea. The Red Sox scored 18 runs in the first five innings and rolled to a 23-7 win. Then came Game 5…

Martinez wasn’t healthy enough to start, so the task fell to Bret Saberhagen on three days rest. For the Indians, Charles Nagy started on three days rest as well. Boston jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Cleveland came storming back. Derek Lowe replaced Saberhagen in the second as the Indians went up 5-2. Boston then scored five to go up 7-5, Cleveland tacked on three for an 8-7 lead and Boston tied it at 8 in the top of the fourth.

And in came Pedro. The Indians not only didn’t score again, they didn’t get another hit. Boston won 12-8 thanks to Troy O’Leary‘s two home runs following intentional walks to Nomar Garciaparra.

In 2001, the A’s went into Yankees Stadium and came away with a pair of two-run victories. The series shifted back to Oakland and Mike Mussina and Barry Zito were brilliant as the game went to the bottom of the ninth with the A’s trailing 1-0. Then, the A’s were going to tie it up against Mariano Rivera, but Derek Jeter made the flip and Jeremy Giambi didn’t slide.

The Yankees rolled to a 9-2 win Game 4 to send the series back to New York. Then, they completed the comeback thanks in part to three Oakland errors. The Yankees broke a 2-2 tie in the third with a run on no hits thanks to two errors. They extended the lead to 4-2 in the fourth on a single, an error and two sacrifices.

In 2003, the A’s took a two-game lead on the Red Sox by winning Game 1 on a 12th-inning, bunt single from Ramon Hernandez and then cruising to a pedestrian 5-1 win in Game 2.

The series shifted back to Boston, and things got weird. The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead in Game 3 in a strange second inning. Oakland botched two double-play balls and then Eric Chavez obstructed Jason Varitek during what should have been an inning-ending rundown and Varitek was awarded home plate.

In the sixth, Eric Byrnes tried to score on a grounder from Miguel Tejada back to pitcher Derek Lowe and Lowe’s throw home was wild. However, Byrnes and Varitek collided at home plate, Byrnes never touched the plate and Varitek raced to get the ball and tag him out. Hernandez then hit a grounder to Garciaparra that went through him for an error. Erubiel Durazo scored to tie the game and third baseman Bill Mueller obstructed Tejada. Thinking he had been awarded home plate, Tejada stopped running halfway there. He had only been awarded third base, however, and Varitek tagged him out.

Finally, in the bottom of the 11th inning, Trot Nixon ended the craziness (which also included Byung-Hyun Kim flipping off the fans and some Boston players taping Ted Lilly‘s name on their backs in an attempt to incite the fans to chant at him) with a walkoff homer.

The A’s still appeared to have a good chance to close the series out with Tim Hudson starting Game 4 against John Burkett, but Hudson left after one scoreless inning with an injury and the Red Sox took a 2-1 lead into the sixth. Burkett finally fell apart then and Oakland went up 4-2, but Boston got one back in the bottom of the inning.

Ken Macha summoned Keith Foulke in the eighth inning for a two-inning save, but David Ortiz came up with a two-out, two-run double to give Boston a 5-4 lead. Without a closer to speak of at that point, the Red Sox left Scott Williamson in and he pitched his second scoreless inning to send the series back to Oakland.

In Game 5, Zito outdueled Martinez over the first five innings and the A’s had a 1-0 lead. But the Red Sox finally got to Zito in the sixth as Varitek led off with a home run to tie the game and Manny Ramirez made it 4-1 with a three-run homer later in the inning. The A’s got a run back in the bottom of the inning and another run in the bottom of the eighth and went to the ninth down 4-3.

Williamson came in to close the game out and walked the first two batters. That ended his night, and brought Game 3 starter Lowe in from the bullpen. Hernandez sacrificed the tying run to third and the winning run to second. Macha replaced Jermaine Dye with Adam Melhuse, and Lowe struck him out. Chris Singleton worked a walk to load the bases. Finally, Lowe caught Terrence Long looking to send Boston to the ALCS.

Nobody could have predicted any of the craziness that allowed those teams to climb out of their 2-0 holes, but it all happened anyway. Nobody’s going to predict anything crazy this year, either, but there’s no reason it couldn’t happen again.

If you’re an Angels fan, it certainly doesn’t look good. But history says that you should keep hoping against hope that an oddity or three will keep your team alive. And if your team can come up with a couple wins, they’ll be in pretty good shape because no team that has won the first two games in a five-game series has ever allowed the other team to tie it up and then regrouped to win the series.

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