Two-game hole can be escaped
Phils staffers Matthews, Lopes and Green witnessed it
DENVER -- The afternoon of Oct. 7, 1984, started fantastically for the Cubs. They pounced on Padres starter Eric Show for three runs in the first two innings and had the ball in ace Rick Sutcliffe's capable hands.Game 5 of the National League Championship Series couldn't have started better for the Cubbies, though you're probably familiar with the unhappy ending for the lovable losers. Gary Matthews, Davey Lopes and Dallas Green, now members of the Phillies' broadcast team, coaching staff and front office, respectively, were part of the Cubs organization that lived through the pain of losing a five-game series after taking a 2-0 lead at home. They lost the next three games in San Diego in what was then a 2-3 format. "[It was] the worst day I've had in baseball," said Green, now the senior advisor to Phillies GM Pat Gillick but then the Cubs' GM. "We worked so hard and it happened quick. We won the first two games [13-0 and 4-2], then couldn't win one out of three out there. We thought we were golden. We had Sutcliffe, and he was money in the bank. Then he ran into trouble, Leon [Durham] made a big error, and Lee Smith couldn't close it out." The 2007 Phillies enter Coors Field trying to channel those same Padres and run off three straight wins against the NL's hottest team. If they do, they'll be the eighth team in Major League history -- of the 50 who have dropped the first two games in a best-of-five series -- to come back from an 0-2 deficit, joining the 1981 Dodgers, 1982 Brewers, 1984 Padres, 1995 Mariners, 1999 Red Sox, 2001 Yankees and 2003 Red Sox. Of that group, only the Yankees did it after dropping the first two games at home. Lopes, now the Phillies' first-base coach, primarily was an outfielder on that '84 Cubs team, but he has seen the phenomenon from the good side, too. A second baseman on the 1981 Dodgers, Lopes felt the euphoria of one of those comebacks, when he and his teammates rallied against the Astros. Bench coach Jimy Williams managed the 1999 Red Sox past Cleveland, a team that had current Phillies manager Charlie Manuel as its hitting coach. Tom Gordon was on that Boston team, and he pitched in Games 2 and 4.
Obviously, the Phillies would rather be one game away from celebrating, but there still is precedent for teams overcoming such a predicament.From where Matthews sits, he says there is just as much pressure, if not more, on the Rockies, to finish off the Phillies. "You need that one game to close it out," Matthews said. "That's the way the New York [Mets] felt [in the NL East]. They kept saying, 'If we can win one more game,' and it never happened. The pressure to win mounts more than the guy who's trying to catch them. I remember [the '84 Cubs] being two games up, and San Diego was talking about how much pressure it was to win games. The pressure was on the team on top. Sure enough, we got swept in three games. [Once you lose the first game], the pressure starts to mount. It definitely can happen, because it happened to us." Matthews said the series can turn on one swing. While Durham's costly seventh-inning error on a Tim Flannery roller led to a four-run inning and ultimately the series in '84, Matthews felt the pressure mounted after the Cubs' lost, 7-1, in Game 3, then heightened when Steve Garvey hit a walkoff homer in Game 4. In 1999, Boston's Brian Daubach smacked a three-run homer in Game 3, though John Valentin's double before it could have swung the momentum just the same. Trot Nixon won Game 3 in 2003 with a walk-off homer. Remeber Derek Jeter's flip to Jorge Posada in 2001 that cut down a non-sliding Jeremy Giambi at home? A's fans do, especially when the Yankees took the series. Things can shift that quickly. "It can happen," said Matthews, an outfielder on that Chicago team. "We flat-out choked it. It's a punch in the stomach that you never forget. Ever." The key, obviously, is not trying to win all three games at once. It seems like a simple concept, this idea of winning one game before winning a second. The Phillies certainly have a pitching edge in terms of experience, with Jamie Moyer opposing rookie flame-thrower Ubaldo Jimenez. Lopes said it's a matter of finding the delicate balance between being intense while staying relaxed. "You have to go into the game as if there will be a tomorrow, but play as if there isn't a tomorrow," Lopes said. "The intensity level has to be a little higher, but you can't be tense. The toughest part is winning that first game, and right now [the Rockies] are in the driver's seat. "But you're not dead until they slam the coffin shut. Lazarus came back."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.