The Red Sox are in serious trouble right now and it based on the first two games of their ALDS matchup against the Astros, it seems more than likely that Sunday is going to be the last game of their season. They have just been thoroughly undressed by this Houston team and appear to be completely overmatched. As many have pointed out, a large part of this is because the Astros are incredible. They are clearly the better team and the series is playing out like many expected, at least in terms of wins and losses. However, it would also be disingenuous to suggest the Red Sox aren’t playing poorly and way below their skill level. The Astros may be better, but they’re not “a plus-twelve run differential over two games” better.
So, things aren’t going well. The better team is firing at all cylinders and showing off all of their best qualities while effectively hiding any weaknesses they may have. The worse team is struggling in every aspect of the game and look completely overmatched. All hope certainly looks lost for the Red Sox, and it’s hard to blame anyone for having little confidence in their chances of coming back in this series. That being said, baseball is a strange sport and these things happen. In fact, let’s take a look at three relatively recent postseason comebacks made by Red Sox teams and try to find a little bit of hope.
The Red Sox entered the first round of the 1999 playoffs as the clear underdogs against an Indians team that had been hanging around for a few years and won three more games than Boston during the regular season. It wasn’t a complete and total mismatch, but Cleveland seemed to be favorites. That played out in the first two games. Pedro Martinez was removed from Game One after just four shutout innings before Derek Lowe blew a 2-0 lead. The game would be tied in the bottom of the ninth when Rich Garces allowed a walkoff Travis Fryman single. Game Two wouldn’t be so exciting as a six-run third and a five-run fourth for Cleveland was enough to give them an 11-1 victory. So, they went back to Boston with a 2-0 lead and eleven more runs than the Red Sox. Things looked pretty bleak for the Red Sox, even if that run differential is pretty misleading.
Things changed back in Boston. Game Three was a 3-3 tie heading into the bottom of the seventh, but the Red Sox put six runs on the board in that inning and ran with their first win of the series. Game Four was a complete annihilation in which Boston won 23-7. That led to a decisive Game Five, the Pedro Game. Cleveland had an 8-7 lead after a crazy first three innings, so the Red Sox turned to Pedro. The ace came out of the bullpen and threw six dominant, no-hit innings in what was one of the greatest pitching performances I’ve ever seen. The Red Sox would, of course, win the game and the series.
Once again, the Red Sox were starting this series on the road, though the mismatch wasn’t nearly as dramatic in this case. Boston wouldn’t go on to win the World Series that year, of course, but they were a juggernaut in 2003, particularly on
defense offense. Oakland was one game better in the regular season, but there was some confidence heading into the series. Much like in 1999, things got started with a nailbiter in which the A’s tied things up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth before walking it off in the twelfth. Following the same pattern, they won rather easily in Game Two, taking a 5-1 decision behind a dominant pitching performance from Barry Zito. This time, things weren’t looking quite as bleak as against Houston this year or against Cleveland in 1999, but they certainly weren’t looking good.
Then, the Red Sox found themselves in a pitchers duel in Game Three, but Derek Lowe and Mike Timlin came through with a huge performance, holding off Oakland until Trot Nixon hit a walk off homer to give Boston their first win. Game Four was another close one, and also an introduction to playoff David Ortiz as the now-legend hit a two-run, go-ahead double in the eighth to give Boston the win and tie the series. Then, in Game Five, the Red Sox got another strong closeout performance from Pedro Martinez and a four-run sixth was enough to give them the win.
I really don’t need to go into details on the greatest comeback in sports history, do I? The tale of how the Red Sox came back from 3-0 against the Yankees before winning their first World Series, complete with the bloody sock and Dave Roberts’ stolen base, is one that we all know at this point. I will point out that things truly felt at their lowest point after a 19-8 shellacking in Game Three and being outscored by 16 runs over the first three games. The comeback was all the more sweet because of this, but it’s easy to remember just how bleak things were at this point.
What does all of this mean? Probably nothing. Nothing the Red Sox did 18 years ago (1999 really was 18 years ago if you’re in the mood for feeling like you’re getting closer and closer to death) is going to have an impact on what they do in this series. The only real takeaway is this: It happens. I wouldn’t bet on the Red Sox coming back against this Astros team that has completely outclassed them over the first two games, and really all year long. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though. We’ve witnessed the Red Sox coming back from similarly precarious situations before. Why can’t they do it again?