Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 17, 2007
BASEBALL: Last Requests
In light of my earlier post on great multi-round postseasons and Mike Carminati's on a similar theme, Jonathan Last asks: "Do the Rockies need to win the World Series, or does what they've done already count as the greatest streak in baseball history?"
There's no real way to define the answer to that question so as to resolve it with mathematical precision, but Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein, at pp. 176-81 of their 2000 book Baseball Dynasties, lay out their "Ten Greatest Stretch Runs," and it's a good place to start in putting in context the Rox winning 13 out of 14 games to close the regular season to force a tie for the wild card, then winning the 1-game playoff (in extra innings, natch), then sweeping the NLDS in 3, then sweeping the NLCS in 4, with their only loss in 22 games coming at the hands of Brandon Webb, arguably the best pitcher in the league. Looking more broadly, the Rox are 33-10 over their last 43 games.
Here's Neyer and Epstein's list, with links and my comments; the 2002 A's' 20-game win streak and overall 43-12 run to take the division by 2 would also make the list, although Oakland went down in the first round of the playoffs. A commenter's suggestion of the 2004 Red Sox gets honorable mention for the greatest-ever playoff comeback, but that was only 7 games, whereas the 1916 Giants' 26-game win streak began and ended with the team in 4th place:
10. 1974 Orioles, 28-6 to come from 8 games back of the Red Sox lead and win the division by 2 over the Yankees. Impressive, but they then lost the LCS 3-1.
9. 1977 Royals, 38-9 including a 24-1 run to come from 4th place back to win the division. But the Royals put it away too early; they won the division by 8, ended the season losing 5 of 8, and blew a 2-1 lead to lose the LCS with a disastrous bullpen meltdown in game 5.
8. 1930 Cardinals, 39-10 including a 21-4 September to win the pennant by 2 after being 12 back of the Cubs, followed by winning the World Series 4-2 after dropping the first two games to the Foxx/Grove/Cochrane/Simmons A's. That's pretty impressive.
7. 1969 Mets; the Mets were 10 games back after August 13, but went 38-11 the rest of the way, then swept through the postseason on a 7-1 tear, thus doing a better job than the 1930 Cards of keeping the momentum straight through. The main difference is that the Mets won the division by 8, so unlike the Rockies they had a breather from playing high-pressure games before embarking on the postseason.
6. 1993 Braves, 39-11 to erase a 9.5 game lead and win by 1 over a 103-win team. The Braves, however, then dropped the NLCS 4-2.
5. 1978 Yankees, 53-21 including the Bucky Dent game to erase a 14-game lead, including a 30-9 finish, followed by going 7-3 in the postseason to win it all. One of the great extended comebacks, but never got into quite the same "can't possibly lose" mode.
4. 1935 Cubs, 2.5 games behind the Cards in third place on September 2, won 21 in a row to put the pennant away and seize a 6-game lead before losing the season's last 2 games. (Ronald Reagan, then doing remote radio broadcasts of Cubs games from a ticker in Iowa, described this as his greatest thrill in baseball). Cubs lost the World Series 4-2, but winning 21 in a row with 23 to play in a tight race is way up there.
3. 1914 Braves, 15 back and in last place on July 4, finished 68-19 and swept the World Series against the defending champion A's, including a 30-5 run from late August to early October. But the Miracle Braves won the pennant by double figures, so about half of that 30-5 run was after the lid had been blown off.
2. 1942 Cardinals, finished 43-8 to roar from a 10-game August deficit to beat a 104-win team by 2, and proceeded to win the World Series 4-1 over the defending champion Yankees. Probably the closest parallel to what the Rockies have accomplished in terms of the 1-2-3 punch of (1) playing incredible regular season baseball (2) needed to win a close pennant race and then (3) continuing the streak into the postseason.
1. 1951 Giants, 39-8 including the famous best-of-3 playoff to erase a 13-game mid-August deficit. Got squashed 4-2 in the World Series.
More teams worthy of mention, off the top of my head (links to the stretch drive records): 1973 Mets, 1908 Cubs (40-9 to win the most famously close pennant race of all, plus the World Series 4-1), 1934 Cardinals (20-5 and won a 7-game World Series), 1999 Mets.
So I'd answer that yes, the Rockies can lay claim to the greatest pressurized run of great baseball ever. If they take the World Series they can formally claim a spot at the head of the line ahead of the 1942, 1930 and 1934 Cardinals, 1969 Mets, 1908 Cubs and 1914 Braves.