Coming back from 3-1 has been done
Underdogs have taken final three games of series 10 times
LOS ANGELES -- It can be done. It's happened before. As implausible as it may seem that the Dodgers might climb out of this 3-1 National League Championship Series hole, they can draw on history to remind themselves that they still have a chance -- not a great chance, but a chance nonetheless -- to advance to the World Series.
"What we have to do is make sure we just go out and put the blinkers on [Wednesday]," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said, "and win tomorrow, and then concern ourselves with the next day, and hopefully in Game 7 again."
Torre knows a thing or two about improbable series comebacks, having been on the wrong side of one back in 2004. His Yankees, now famously up 3-0 in their best-of-seven American League Championship Series, lost four straight to the Red Sox to forgo a shot at another World Series title.
And that Red Sox team -- led by current Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez -- pulled a similar trick last year, roaring back from a 3-1 ALCS deficit to down the Indians en route to their second World Series championship in four years.
"We were down, 3-1, and still felt that we could win," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said after that series. "There's obviously those three nights you go to bed and you don't sleep. All you think about is trying to win."
So pardon the Dodgers if they endure some insomnia of their own, knowing that they must win three straight -- including one over Phillies ace Cole Hamels on Wednesday -- just to advance to the World Series. They are making no excuses, because they spent most of this series charging straight toward this predicament. But they insist that they're now prepared to charge in the other direction.
If history has been any guide, it's proven that such a run is possible, and that winning three straight games in October -- regardless of the situation -- is no more or less difficult than doing so in the regular season. The Dodgers accomplished that feat eight times.
And that's not all. Of the 70 teams that have faced a 3-1 series deficit in Major League history, 10 of them have come back to win an NLCS, an ALCS or a World Series. Take the 1985 Royals, for example. That club fell behind three games to one both in the ALCS and the World Series, but came back to win both of them.
The Dodgers don't have Bret Saberhagen, as the Royals did, but they do have Chad Billingsley, their Game 5 starter and one of their more naturally gifted pitchers. Although the Phillies tagged Billingsley for eight runs in Game 2 of the NLCS, the Dodgers are hanging on the hope that he will be better in Game 5.
"The pitcher," Torre said, "is obviously the center of attention right now."
|The Dodgers have a 3-1 hill to climb, but it has been done before. Here are the 10 teams that have come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win a best-of-seven series, including five that closed out the series on the road:|
|* Won final two on the road.|
That much was also the case in 1985 and 2004 and '07 -- and also in '03, when the Marlins came back to beat the Cubs after staring down a 3-1 series deficit. Perhaps better remembered for the non-fan interference call that helped change the tide of the series in Game 6, the series also featured a two-hit shutout from Josh Beckett in Game 5.
Consider the parallels in that one -- Beckett, 23 years old at the time and making his first career postseason start, served up six runs in a Game 1 loss to the Cubs. And Billingsley, 24, allowed eight runs to the Phillies in his postseason rotation debut.
Beckett rebounded to pitch his two-hitter in Game 5 and four stellar innings of relief in Game 7. And Billingsley, now set to make his second career postseason start, has an opportunity to do the same.
"It's pretty much do or die," Billingsley said. "We've just got to come ready to play."
What's clear is that at whatever age, pitching is the key to any comeback -- and that's no surprise. In winning the 1996 NLCS after trailing three games to one, the Braves completely shut down the Cardinals over the remaining contests. Striking out a combined 17 batters and walking just one, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine teamed up to provide 21 2/3 innings of one-run ball over that stretch.
In the 1986 ALCS, once down three games to one, the Red Sox used a stellar seven innings from Roger Clemens in Game 7 to complete their improbable comeback. And in the 1968 World Series, the Tigers allowed just two runs over their final two games.
Equally encouraging to the Dodgers is that of the 10 teams that have come back from 3-0 deficits, five of them have won the final two games on the road. So the Dodgers, still prepared to jet back to Philadelphia in the event of a Game 6, won't be canceling their airline reservations just yet.
"Our goal right now is to be on that plane on Thursday," Torre said.
All this history, of course, hasn't been lost on the Phillies, who know that the NLCS is far from over. Although Game 5 will certainly be more critical for the Dodgers than the Phillies, manager Charlie Manuel insisted that it will nonetheless be the biggest game of their season.
"And they keep getting bigger," Manuel said, "until somebody tells you to go home."
The Dodgers don't want somebody to tell them that just yet. And so they will simply try to "come back and win all three" as closer Jonathan Broxton put it, and try their best to forget the previous four.
"We just can't concern ourselves with what has already happened," Torre said, knowing both the futility and necessity of that goal. "We have to go out there and play a game [Wednesday] night. And I have a sense that we will."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.