Friday, October 17, 2008

Boston's Memorable Comeback

The year 1929 seems to be inescapable for Americans these days.

Of course, the financial crisis has had people thinking about the Great Depression (which began with the stock market crash in October of that year) for awhile now.

But last night the Boston Red Sox gave sports fans a chance to reflect on 1929 as well.

(Considering that the last comparable comeback in baseball occurred only a couple of weeks before the legendary Stock Market Crash of 1929, Americans outside the Boston area may not find much comfort in last night's rally by the Red Sox.)

With their 8-7 win over Tampa Bay, the Red Sox remained alive in the American League Championship Series. They trail, three games to two, as they return to Tampa for the final two games this weekend.

The comeback, as has been stated, was the greatest in baseball's postseason since 1929, which was 40 years before the American and National Leagues split into divisions. In 1929, the only postseason games were the World Series itself — which matched the Philadelphia Athletics and the Chicago Cubs that year.

The A's won the first two games in Chicago, then lost the third game when the series shifted to Philadelphia. Thus, when the teams met for Game 4 on Saturday, Oct. 12, 1929, in Philadelphia, the visiting team had won each of the first three games.

It looked like that trend would continue through the first six innings of the fourth game.

The Cubs led, 8-0, going into the bottom of the seventh. But left fielder Al Simmons led off the at-bat with a home run for the A's, and Philadelphia scored nine more runs on nine more hits — taking a 10-8 lead into the eighth. The score held up, giving the A's a 3-1 lead in the series.

The Athletics clinched the world championship with another come-from-behind victory two days later, on Monday, Oct. 14, 1929, at Philadelphia's Shibe Park. The Cubs took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth, but the Athletics rallied for three runs to finish off Chicago in five games.

Does last night's rally have any historical significance — for either the economy or baseball?

It's hard to say what, if any, relationship the two things have to each other — and, therefore, whether the occurrence of an historic comeback should serve as an omen of an impending economic collapse.

It seems to me that a few things can be said with some certainty:
  • Although we often hear sports analogies used in economic conversations, the fact is that the advantage in an athletic contest is more permanent than the advantages most consumers realize with most investments.

    As we've seen in the recent wild fluctuations of the stock market, the value of stocks can change drastically on a daily basis — if not hourly or even by the minute.

    But, unless a rules violation is discovered long after a game is over, and a team is required to forfeit a game it won on the field, a win is a win is a win. Fans can "what-if" an outcome indefinitely, some fans may desert a team because of it, but the outcome itself doesn't change. Nor does the value of any championships that were won.

  • Also — unless I missed something — I didn't get the sense that this was a deal breaker for Tampa Bay.

    In 2003, at Chicago's Wrigley Field, when the Cubs were a few outs away from winning the National League title in Game 6 and blew it when both a fan and a player failed to catch a fly ball, igniting a fateful (and nearly as improbable) eight-run rally by Florida, I clearly got the feeling that the air had gone out of the team and the fans, even though Florida did not clinch the league title that night.

    The difference between the 2003 Cubs and the 2008 Rays is that the Cubs were playing at home. The crowd for Game 7 at Wrigley Field seemed more subdued than one would expect, perhaps with the memory of the previous game fresh in the fans' minds.

    And the Cubs' long-suffering fans were eliminated as factors in the game when Florida rallied from a 5-3 deficit to take the lead for good in the fifth inning.

    Only time will tell if a similar fate awaits the Rays. But they lost Game 5 on the road, and now they have two opportunities to wrap up the American League title at home. I like their chances.
Here's a sampling of the media response to last night's game:
  • If you pull for the Boston Red Sox, you've lived with a history of postseason futility that was nearly as paralyzing as the one the Cubs' fans have endured for a century.

    In the end, it may take something as dramatic as Boston's championship season of 2004 to snap them out of it.

    In 2004, as you may recall, the Red Sox came back from an 0-3 deficit against the rival New York Yankees to win the league title in seven games, then won the World Series with a four-game sweep of St. Louis that was capped by a total lunar eclipse on the night of Game 4 that colored the moon red over Busch Stadium.

    Anyway, the Red Sox's fans know what's it like to have their backs against the wall.

    "Pedigree matters," says Bob Ryan in the Boston Globe. "The Red Sox are the defending champions. They always come to play nine innings, and if it takes the greatest postseason comeback in 79 years to stay alive, then they will give you the greatest comeback in 79 years."

  • The rally was "unbelievable," as Joe Posnanski writes in his blog.

    "This was like something out of a kid’s dream," he writes. "Do you remember being a kid and concocting these fantastic scenarios when your team was losing, these preposterous comebacks that boggled logic and the space-time continuum?"

  • Gary Shelton concedes, in the St. Petersburg Times, that Boston put together a remarkable comeback.

    "The Rays lost a devastating game," Shelton writes. "They didn't lose anything else. They did not lose momentum, they did not lose their confidence, and they did not lose their grip on the ALCS. Saturday night, Sunday at the latest, they will close out this thing. Just you watch."

  • But judging from the tone of his recap in today's Tampa Tribune, Martin Fennelly believes the tide has turned — and that, in spite of their 3-2 lead with the last two games to be played at home, the Rays are finished.

    "Seven runs up. Seven outs away," he writes. "It goes on. How will the Rays?"

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