The Atlanta Braves won the first two games of the 1996 World Series, were halfway to the second of consecutive world championships and critics and Braves alike mused about their place in history.
A ledge above the Buffalo Bills as it turned out.
“It’s over,” declared an Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist, and it was, only not as thought.
“Why play it out? Braves greats have Yankees overmatched,” was a Journal-Constitution headline, and beginning that night, and over the next five days the headline writer learned why.
The Yankees, outscored 16-1 in the first two games, won the next four games — three in Atlanta — in the most peculiar of fashions: the Braves blowing a 6-0 Game 4 lead and walking in the go-ahead run in the 10th, a hobbled Paul O’Neill making a Game 5 game-saving catch, Joe Girardi tripling off old batterymate Greg Maddux to start the Game 6 scoring.
There’s a reason Joaquin Andujar said his favorite word in English is youneverknow.
You might know how and when your favorite TV drama will end — amazing how Perry Mason always identified the killer at the 55-minute mark — but there’s no certainty to how this year’s World Series will end, even with a 108-win Red Sox team up 2-0. They’re looking a lot like the ’96 Braves at the same point.
This is the eighth time the Dodgers have trailed 2-0 in the World Series. Here’s how they’ve fared in the previous seven:
- 1916: The last time these two franchises met in the World Series. The Dodgers, also known as the Robins in honor of manager Wilbert Robinson, won Game 3 by beating Carl Mays, more famous for throwing the 1920 pitch as a Yankee that killed Indians infielder Ray Chapman. (Even without Chapman, the Indians beat the Dodgers, 5 games to 2 in that year’s Series, holding Brooklyn to eight runs in seven games.) But the Red Sox won the final two games and the 1916 Series, 4-1. Babe Ruth won Game 2 for the Sox, a 14-inning, complete-game six-hitter that took just 2:32. At bat, Ruth went 0-for-5 with an RBI and two strikeouts, and somewhere, John Smoltz complained the big man would never make it as a hitter unless he made more contact.
- 1947: The Dodgers lost the first two games at Yankee Stadium — this became something of a theme over the next decade — and tied the series with two one-run wins, the second with one hit, Cookie Lavagetto’s no-hit busting double with two outs in the ninth. The pitch count for Yankees almost-no-hit starter Bill Bevens, who walked 10, might have approached two starts worth today. But 71 years ago, the Yankees won this Series in the most modern of ways: with their bullpen. Joe Page was one of the very first relief specialists, having pitched 141.1 innings in 56 games in 1947 and starting just twice. He won 14 games and saved 17. In the Series, he was second on the Yankees in innings pitched behind Spec Shea, who started Game 7 and got only four outs (two of those were caught stealings). Bevens relieved Shea and got eight outs as the Yankees took the lead, and Page, who pitched four innings to save Game 1, threw five one-hit innings to close a 5-2 Game 7 win. Page led the AL in games finished for three straight years, averaging 128.1 innings a season, saving 60 games and winning 34 from 1947-49. But injuries curtailed his effectiveness by age 32. And Bevens? His arm sore, he never pitched in the major leagues again. Remember that the next time someone bashes pitch counts and yearns for the old days. On his not-quite a no-hitter, Bevens said, according to his bio at sabr.org, ” (I) felt like a guy who had dropped ten stories in an elevator. My heart and my brains and everything was right down by my spikes.”
- 1953: The Dodgers won the next two games to tie the Series as Carl Erskine fanned a Series-record 14 Yankees at Ebbets Field in Game 3, and Billy Martin was thrown out at home trying to score on a Mickey Mantle single for the final out in a 7-3 Game 4 win. But Martin homered and Mantle hit a grand slam in Game 5 off reliever Russ Meyer after Johnny Podres exited his Series debut, and Martin singled in the Series-winning run off reliever Clem Labine in Game 6 in the bottom of the ninth after the Dodgers tied it on Carl Furillo’s two-run homer in the top half. Labine wept in the locker room after the Dodgers’ third Series loss in five years to the Yankees. From Roger Kahn’s Boys of Summer: “I heard sobs issuing from this man who above all things was proud of his poise.”
- 1955: Next year at last, and it was redemptive for Podres and Labine. Podres won Game 3 and Labine won Game 4 and saved Game 5, pitching 7.1 innings out of the pen on consecutive days. With 20-game winner Don Newcombe, who started and lost Game 1, injured, Game 7 came to Podres. The Dodgers scored runs in the fourth and sixth, and with a 2-0 lead starting the bottom of the sixth, manager Walter Alston made the move that saved the series. Having batted for second baseman Don Zimmer in the top of the sixth, Alston moved Junior Gilliam from left field to his more natural second base, and put Sandy Amoros in left. There was the left-handed Amoros in the bottom of the sixth racing into the corner to make the one-handed catch — no backhand necessary — of Yogi Berra’s long drive. Amoros turned and relayed to shortstop Pee Wee Reese, who threw from just inside the cutout on the grass behind third to first baseman Gil Hodges to double off the sliding Gil McDougald. No word on what percentage chance Statcast gave Amoros of making the catch, but it couldn’t have been very high. McDougald didn’t think it would be caught, as he was a step past second base when he realized, too late, Amoros was going to reach it. Podres exulted as they did in the ’50s, with a couple of pumps of his arms, and took it from there, working out of a two-on, one-out jam in the eighth and completing an eight-hit 2-0 win.
- 1965: The Dodgers shut out the Twins three times in the final five games, but it was Claude Osteen’s five-hitter in Game 3 which started the comeback. Don Drysdale, who pinch-hit for Sandy Koufax in Game 2, won Game 4 and Koufax threw a four-hitter in Game 5. Like Koufax, Game 7 loser Jim Kaat started on two days rest, though he only pitched into the third in Game 5. He lasted only two outs longer in Game 7, not that it mattered. Over four days, Koufax pitched two shutouts, allowed seven hits, walked four and fanned 20. For the Series, he allowed one earned run over 24 innings, fanning 29.
- 1966: The Dodgers not only didn’t win the Series or win a Game, they didn’t even score after losing the first two games at home. Wally Bunker and Dave McNally followed Jim Palmer’s Game 2 shutout, with a six-hitter and four-hitter respectively, and the Orioles won the last two games, each by 1-0.
- 1981: The Dodgers came home and won three games by one run, overcoming Yankee leads in every game. Shut out for six innings in Game 5, Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yaeger homered back to back in the seventh off Ron Guidry to win Game 5 2-1, and the Dodgers won 9-2 in Game 6 as Guerrero knocked in five. George Steinbrenner apologized to Yankees fans and eventually assigned blame to Dave Winfield, for which George Frazier can be thankful. Winfield went 1-for-22, with only a Game 5 single keeping him from a hitless Series. But Frazier lost three of the four games, and allowed nine hits, three walks and seven runs in 3.2 innings, good for a 17.18 Series ERA. Setup relievers Frazier, Ron Davis and Dave Righetti pitched eight innings and allowed 18 hits, 10 walks and 16 earned runs. That’s an 18.00 ERA for which Winfield wasn’t responsible.