The reigning world champion St. Louis Cardinals completed one of the most impressive comebacks in the history of Major League Baseball, overcoming a 6-0 deficit and a 7-5 ninth inning deficit to stun the Washington Nationals in the fifth and deciding game of the NLDS.
The Nationals, who were in the postseason for the first time since moving to Washington before the 2004 season (and the first time since the Montreal Expos reached the playoffs in 1981), will have an entire off-season to think about their choke in the biggest game in franchise history.
So where does the Nationals’ collapse rank in MLB postseason history? Let’s look at some of the memorable collapses in MLB postseason history.
The New York Yankees blew a 3-0 series lead on the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 American League Championship Series, the first time any baseball team lost a seven-game series after taking a three games to none lead.
The Red Sox led the New York Mets 5-3 in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series with two outs and no runners on base. They lost the game, and ultimately the series.
The San Francisco Giants led the 2002 World Series three games to two and 5-0 in the seventh inning of game six before losing 6-5, and dropping the seventh game.
Last year’s Texas Rangers led the Cardinals 7-5, a strike away from elimination, in the sixth game of the 2011 World Series, before the Cardinals forced extra innings, scored two more runs in the bottom of the tenth, and walked off in the eleventh. They won game seven the next night.
And there are other examples. The 1925 Washington Senators led three games to one, lost their next two games, and blew a four-run lead in the seventh and deciding game. The 1958 Milwaukee Braves blew a three games to one lead to the New York Yankees, as did the 1985 Cardinals to the Kansas City Royals.
I’d rank all those as bigger collapses than the 2012 Nationals blowing multiple leads in the fifth game of the NLDS.
But as far as winner-take-all games go, this was one of the worst in history.
The Nationals had a 6-0 lead after three innings, with 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez on the mound. They had a 7-5 lead after eight innings with star closer Drew Storen taking the mound.
You’re talking a 98 percent win probability here. In fact, no team had ever blown a lead of more than four runs in a winner-take-all postseason game, and only one team had blown a multi-run lead heading into the final inning.
Save the postseason experience hogwash. The Nationals won 98 games during the regular season, the most in baseball. Asking them to hold a huge lead at home against an inferior opponent is not too much.
And then… Double. Groundout. Strikeout. Walk. Walk. Two-run single. Stolen base. And a two-run single.
Talk about history repeating itself.
In last year’s World Series, it was David Freese who batted with the Cardinals trailing 7-5, two outs, two strikes, and two runners on. He tripled to tie the game. This year, he came up in the exact same situation and walked to extend the game.
The Cardinals’ biggest hero last year was third baseman Freese, a virtual no-namer to the average fan, while the two biggest heroes this game were Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma. Now that is impressive.
This is the kind of game that could affect a franchise heading into the next season. We all saw how the 2011 Red Sox collapse affected the 2012 team. Or the Nationals could rebound from their collapse like the Atlanta Braves, who choked away a wild-card spot in 2011 and rebounded to make the postseason in 2012.