When are game seven wins inevitable?

Someone interrupted my presentation at the SABR Analytic Conference to tell me that he literally “knew” that the Cardinals were going to win the seventh game of the World Series last year after they broke Texas’ heart in Game Six. Someone else (at least, I think it was someone else) commented on my recent critical at-bats article to say that the Mets’ win in Game Seven of the 1986 World Series was “inevitable” given that they had burned the Red Sox so badly the day before. I have to admit, I admire their sense of certainty.

On the other hand, I’m a skeptic. It’s easy to say that you “know” something when you haven’t studied it in detail. You’re more likely to pick examples that support your point. You’re more likely to interpret everything that happens through your perspective. If you see a Game Six comeback that doesn’t lead to a Game Seven win, you’re likely to say that the game just didn’t have the same impact for some reason. You rationalize it away.

So, I wondered, is there a way to study this issue dispassionately? Can we quantify, in an objective way, how likely a game is to break the heart of the losing team? Why yes, I said to myself, I think there is.

Tense moments in games are measured by Leverage Index. The more high-LI at-bats there are in a game, the more intense it is. Theoretically, these are the games that should break the losing team’s heart. So, following is a list of the most intense Game Sixes in World Series history, along with a description of what happened next.

The most intense Game Six ever was last year’s. You probably remember the game, and you probably remember how Texas didn’t seem to really compete the next day. Score one for the “inevitable” school.

The second-most intense Game Six ever occurred in 1992, the Joe Carter home run game. There was no Game Seven.

The Cubs won an whirlwind 8-7 12-inning game against the Tigers in 1945. The Tigers had scored four in the eighth to tie the game, but couldn’t pull off the win. That was the third-most intense Gave Six ever. The next day, with Hal Newhouser on the mound, they won easily. Score one for the “momentum is only as good as tomorrow’s pitcher” camp.

Next on our Intense-O-Meter is 1986, Mets over Red Sox. The Red Sox actually had a three-run lead in the sixth inning of the final game, but the Boston bullpen was spent and the Mets took the seventh. I’ve never quite understood how a team that doesn’t have momentum can take a three-run lead (most typical response is “It was the Red Sox. They always toy with us.”) but I’ll give this one to the Momentum Knowers.

Game Six of the 1975 World Series is virtually tied with the 1986 game, but the Red Sox won this one on Carlton Fisk‘s famous ability to guide the path of baseballs in the air. Still, the Reds weren’t deterred and won the seventh game on a single by Joe Morgan in the ninth. At this point, seems to me the record is 50/50.

Next we’ve got the 1971 10-inning Game Six squeaker by the Orioles over the Pirates. The Buccos won a 2-1 squeaker in Game Seven. No loss of momentum there.

Then there’s the 1991 Kirby Puckett game, extra innings with a Puckett home run finally winning it for the Twins. The next day, Jack Morris spun a 1-0 win over John Smoltz, giving up the winning run in the 10th. I find this one really hard to swallow, given that this game could have gone to either team, but let’s say the Momentum Believers saw something here.

A couple more? In 1985, Don Denkinger made a boneheaded call and the Royals pulled a 2-1 win out of the hat with two runs in the bottom of the ninth. Evidently dispirited, the Cardinals lost 11-0 the next day. Definitely an argument for momentum.

We’ll finish by citing the 1956 Game Six between the Dodgers and Yankees, a 1-0 win in 10 innings for the boys from Flatbush. The Yankees shrugged it off with a 9-0 win the next day.

So, we’ve got an even record here. Based on this list, teams that lose dramatic Game Sixes, the types of games that break hearts, are no more or less likely to lose the seventh game. This obviously isn’t the last word on the subject, and I’m sure I’ll get a hate email or two. But this little survey ought to at least introduce a little bit of doubt for those who believe that Game Seven wins are inevitable after a Game Six heartbreak.

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  1. kds said...

    I would use a slightly different measure to rank the games 6.  Look at the teams that had the highest WE and then lost.  If the psycho/momentum theory is correct, then these teams should be most disappointed, and most likely to lose game 7.

    If team A had a 1 run lead, and team B loaded the bases in several late innings, but never scored, your LI method would rank that higher than a game in which team A blows a 4 run lead late and loses.

    Is there a date before which we don’t have data?  I might have expected 1934 to be on the list and possibly some other earlier years.

  2. Dave Studeman said...

    Great idea regarding comebacks, kds.  All postseason data is included in this and my other articles.  I’m on the road right now, but I’ll check the list for 1934 later.

  3. Todd said...

    BS that Texas didn’t compete in game 7. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first. Carpenter looked gassed, pitching on 3 days rest again. He obviously got through it and settled down, and the Cardinals responded quickly and ended up winning fairly comfortably, but to say Texas didn’t compete is unfair and untrue.

  4. Todd said...

    Also, since this is something of an anecdotal survey, I’ll throw another non-WS Game 6 anecdote out there, against the momentum argument.

    Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS. Pujols’ HR off Lidge. Totally broke the Astros, right? Nope, Roy Oswalt shut the Cardinals down in Game 6 and the Astros went on to the WS.

  5. Dave Studeman said...

    BS that Texas didn’t compete in game 7.

    Too funny.  I guess everything you say will tick off someone. The blogging rule of thumb.

  6. Todd said...

    It didn’t piss me off, it’s just false. I was at the game, and I’m a Cardinals’ fan, and I promise you that Texas didn’t just roll over. Did you read the rest of my comment? Did you know that the Rangers had a 71% WE after they took a 2-0 lead? Did you just state that fact from memory, or did you actually take a look to confirm that the Rangers didn’t compete?

  7. Dave Studeman said...

    Okay, okay! I appreciate your passionate offense taken by my misuse of one word in my post.  Thank you!

  8. Todd said...

    Sigh. You’re still trying to be flippant/dismissive even when admitting I have a point, despite the fact that what I’m saying gets to the very heart of the argument, and is in support of your conclusion.

    The inclination is to say that Texas rolled over, because that fits better with the narrative in conjunction with game 6. But they didn’t. It’s the same point that you made about 1986. Just looking at the W/L total of these games doesn’t necessarily tell you everything about the “inevitability” of it, unless you believe that inevitability encompasses the comebacks mounted in 2011 and 1986, which seems silly.

  9. Dave Studeman said...

    Todd, I don’t mean to be flippant or dismissive.  I’m just being ironic because, as you say, I laid out the narrative that way in order to bend over backwards for the Momentum Believers.  And, even when I did, the argument came out against them.

    If it appears that I’m not taking your perspective seriously enough, I apologize.

  10. CraigM said...

    Todd, teams don’t literally roll over and give up. They are still trying 100%. But that doesn’t mean there is still some psychological stuff going on that Shiite, we came so close the day before and here we go again. What did Yogi Berra say re. the mental aspect of baseball. But you’re point about the 2005 nlcs is a good one. That HR by Pujols was one of the most dramatic, clutch hits I’ve seen in my 45 years as a baseball fan. And how it totally silenced the very loud Houston crowd. Something I’ll never forget. And yet Houston managed to come back from that, on the road no less. But to be fair, the 2003 nlcs supports my side. It’s interesting how many of the teams that wound up losing those game 7’s took early leads in the game- the Cubs in 2003, the Red Sox in 1986, and the Rangers last year.

  11. CraigM said...

    Great article Dave. You make a great case for the anti-momentum side. Now I don’t feel so bad about not betting a bundle on the Cards in game 7 last year (I live in Las Vegas). BTW, I am not the same guy who debated you at the conference, lol.

  12. Dave Studeman said...

    By the way, kds, 1934 was a few steps behind this list.  It also appears that I have the 1992 game out of order.  Not sure how that happened.

  13. kds said...

    Now that I’ve looked at the box score, I’m not really surprised that 1934 is not very near the top.  I think people look at game 7 and then look back at game 6 for an explanation.  Game 7 was 11-0 Cards winning in Detroit, with near riots breaking out.

    It might be interesting to look at contemporary newspaper coverage, (and/or internet more recently), to see if there was a lot of, “after their tough game 6 loss it will be hard for them to come back for game 7.”

  14. Paul G. said...

    No, you can never please everyone.  If you do, that means you are not trying hard enough.  Of course, if you upset everyone you may be trying too hard.

    And I must commend you on this article.  When the going gets tough, the tough do research!

  15. Josh said...

    The Joe Carter game was actually 1993. Game 6 in 1992 saw the Braves tie it on an Otis Nixon single with two out in the bottom of the ninth. Dave Winfield drove in two with a double in the eleventh. The Braves scored one in the bottom of the inning and got the tying run to third before Nixon was thrown out trying to bunt for a hit, ending the game and the series.

  16. Dave Studeman said...

    Josh, great catch.  Got my 1993 and 1992 mixed up.  It makes a lot more sense for the 1992 game to rank so highly.  Luckily it was still the final game of the series, so it doesn’t affect the conclusion.

  17. Bo Quab said...

    The 1931 and 1955 World Series are perfect examples of an extreme underdog team getting the momentum snatched away from them in Game 6, only to come roaring back to win it all.

  18. Bo Quab said...

    To elaborate, by 1955, the Dodgers had never once won a title. They had lost to the Yankees in the ‘41 Series, and the ‘47, ‘49,’ ‘52 and ‘53 Fall Classics, too. In 1955, they went into Game 6 needing only a win to finally quash the “Wait ‘til next year” pain; instead, they got emotionally pulverized when Whitey Ford twirled a 4-hitter, setting up a seemingly “inevitable” Game 7 loss to the previously always-victorious Yankees (a Game 7 at Yankee Stadium, no less).

    But Inevitable and Momentum (not to mention Mystique and Aura) forget to tell Johnny Podres about this.

    Similar thing in 1931: those Philly A’s were one of the greatest teams of all-time, and had won the previous two WS’s. The Cardinals took a 3-2 Series lead back to St. Louis, only to have Lefty Grove dash their seemingly pitiful little dreams of toppling the juggernaut, by administering a Game 6 whipping. Even the Cardinal’s faithful must have sensed that their team had no chance: despite selling out Game 6, only 20,805 fans bothered to show up for Game Seven.

    But Pepper Martin and crew won the game and the Series, apparently not aware that they were supposed to be cowed by “momentum.”

  19. John C said...

    The only Game 7 I have seen where I thought one team just rolled over was the one in the 1985 World Series. And even in that game, the Cardinals were at least putting forth a half-hearted effort until the score got to about 6-0 and their pitcher threw a temper tantrum. After that inning, they just laid down.

    One reason I’ve never put much stock in the Cardinals’ complaints about 1985 is how they played after the bad call in Game 6. They made enough mistakes and bad decisions in that half-inning after Denkinger’s call to lose three games, and then they were awful in Game 7. It would have been one thing if they’d gone down on their shields, but a championship team doesn’t quit because of one bad call.

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