Columnist asks: How did the Boston Red Sox pull it off?

Brian Kimmes

Brian Kimmes

The biggest collapse or the biggest comeback in sports history?

That is the question that many sports fans have been contemplating the past week, since the Boston Red Sox came back to defeat the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

The Yankees held an insurmountable three games to none lead in the best of seven series against their rival Red Sox. No team in baseball history had ever come back from three games down to win a series. In fact, no team in baseball had ever come back to force a game seven. Twenty-five teams have been down 0-3 in the playoffs, and 25 teams have lost.

In the three major sports that hold playoff series, baseball, basketball and hockey, only two out of 236 teams have come back from facing a 0-3 deficit. Both of those teams were in hockey, where a hot goalie can single-handedly win a series for the team.

What makes this story even more compelling is that it was Boston versus New York. These two teams have the longest history of hatred for each other in baseball. The Boston-New York rivalry can be traced all the way back to the early 1900s and the dislike has grown over the last 80 years. Boston fans have watched New York win World Series after World Series while the Red Sox have blown chance after chance.

The Yankees have dominated the Red Sox in head-to-head competition in the playoffs. Coming into this series, many experts felt that Boston had the better team but that New York would win because New York always wins. Last year was an excellent example. The Red Sox had the Yankees on the verge of elimination, but the Yankees came back to defeat the Red Sox in extra innings in game seven of the ALCS. Boston not only came back from a 0-3 deficit in the series, they also had to come back from 4-2 deficits in games four and five.

Over the last eight years, New York has won many playoff games because of their closer, Mariano Rivera. Rivera has been lights out in the playoffs. Coming into this year’s playoffs, Rivera had blown only two save opportunities. He is considered by many experts as the best post-season relief pitcher in the history of baseball. So in order for the Red Sox to come back and win the series, they had to come back against Mariano Rivera in not one, but two games. They did. Rivera had two blown saves in the series, the same amount he had coming into the 2004 playoffs.

Adding to the drama is the Boston Red Sox Curse of the Bambino. The Curse goes back almost 80 years, when the Red Sox traded the great Babe Ruth to the Yankees. I use the term trade loosely – really the Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees. Ever since Ruth was “traded,” the Red Sox have failed to win a World Series. They have made it there a few times, but have managed a way to lose it.

One example of the Curse in effect in the World Series was in 1986. The Sox held a three games to two advantage in the World Series. They had a lead late in the game. A routine groundball was hit to the first baseman. It should have resulted in an easy out to end the inning, instead the ball went through the first basemen’s legs and the other team scored two runs to win the game. Boston would lose game seven and the series.

The Boston Red Sox had an enormous amount of history to overcome in defeating the Yankees. So, did the Yankees blow it or did the Sox earn it? Boston had the better team so I would say that Red Sox came back and earned the series victory.