Losing momentum in the sixth game

In this year’s Hardball Times Annual (link will be posted soon!), I’ve included an article on the teams that have come closest to winning the World Series without actually winning it. You might correctly guess that the 1986 Red Sox are at the top of the list, but that’s all I’m going to tell you for now. But the book: it’s got 30 other great articles just like it.

I have found that most people think that all teams that blow it in the sixth game of a World Series lose hope and have no chance of winning the seventh game. Like a good sabermetrician, I’ve been a skeptic; momentum is only as good as the next starting pitcher. But, like a good sabermetrician, I should examine the evidence.

So here’s a quick list of the teams that lost the sixth game of the World Series after almost winning the game (and the Series). I’m going to list only those teams that reached at least a 90 percent Championship Expectancy level in the sixth game before losing it, and I’m going to talk about what happened in the seventh game.

The 1986 Red Sox (99.4 percent) Yes, they lost the Series. Schiraldi, Stanley, Knight, Mookie, Buckner, etc. etc.

The 2002 Giants (98.5 percent) The Giants had a 5-0 lead over the Angels with one out in bottom of the seventh inning of the sixth game of this Series—a Championship Expectancy of 98.5 percent. Unfortunately for Bay area fans, Scott Spiezio hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh, Darin Erstad hit a solo shot in the bottom of the eighth, Tim Salmon and Garret Anderson singled and Troy Glaus hit a two-run double to give the Angels a remarkable come-from-behind win after Troy Percival retired the side in order in the top of the ninth. The Angels went on to win the seventh game, 4-1.

The 2011 Rangers (98.1 percent) Holy Moley, David Freese. You probably remember it. Cards won it all the next day.

The 1975 Reds (96.3 percent) The Reds led the sixth game by a score of 6-3 in the bottom of the eighth before Bernie Carbo hit a three-run homer to tie it. Carlton Fisk subsequently waved a home run to left and the Red Sox celebrated a terrific comeback against the Reds…

…only to lose the seventh game to the Reds the next day. It seems the Reds weren’t overly awed by Carbo and Fisk. They did fall behind 3-0 in that seventh game but staged a rally of their own and scored the winning run in the top of the ninth on a Joe Morgan single. They were impervious to the Game Six comeback jinx.

The 1985 Cardinals (91.8 percent) Denkinger. Grr. Royals blow away the Cardinals in the seventh game, 11-0.

The 1909 Pirates (91.7 percent) I have a feeling you don’t remember this one.

The 1909 Pirates were one of the greatest teams of all time, featuring Honus Wagner at short and winning 110 games. They were leading the Series by a 3-2 margin and quickly scored three runs in the top of the first inning of the sixth game to give them a big leg up. A Series victory seemed imminent. However, the Tigers scraped together enough runs to beat the Pirates, 5-4, and force a seventh game.

Which the Pirates won handily, 8-0.

The 1987 Cardinals (90.3 percent) Yup. The 1987 Series pitted the Cardinals against the Twins, and the Cards held a 3-2 lead in games with a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth. The Twins chased John Tudor off the mound with four runs in the bottom of the sixth and blew away the Cardinals 11-5. They then proceeded to win the seventh game behind Series MVP Frank Viola, 4-2.

Last one…

The 1971 Pirates (90.3 percent) Nope. The Pirates and Orioles again, this time in 1971. The Pirates had a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth, closing in on a series championship, but the Orioles managed a run in both the sixth and seventh innings to tie it, and then Brooks (Robinson) drove in Frank (Robinson) in the bottom of the 10th to give the Orioles the victory.

The Pirates held their own the next day, however, with a tight 2-1 win over the O’s in Baltimore. One of the Pirates’ two runs was scored on a home run from Series MVP Roberto Clemente, who would die a year later in a fatal plane crash.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

So, of the eight teams that made our list of sixth-game gut-wrenching losers, three teams (the 1975 Reds, the 1909 Pirates and the 1971 Pirates) managed to win the seventh game anyway. The other five took the momentum and ran with it. What’s more, the three most dramatic sixth-game losers all lost the seventh game.

Statistically, we haven’t proven anything; the sample size is way too small. Anecdotally, yes, teams that lose dramatic sixth games, especially when they lose them in the ninth inning or later, tend to also lose the next game.

References & Resources
Brian Gunn took up the subject of demoralizing home runs in a THT article several years ago.

Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.
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10 years ago

Would it be appropriate to multiply the 98.1 x the other 90+ instance in the 2011 game, since the Rangers twice, in different innings, got w/in one out of winning?  To me that game seems a closer margin than 1986 and 2002.

Jon Keller
10 years ago

Very interesting and well-researched. Thanks for a
fine look at an interesting aspect of seven-game

10 years ago

I think… the 1975 Reds DID win.  The 1975 Red Sox, not so much.

10 years ago

and: ohh, now I get it.

10 years ago

So what you’re saying is, when the Cardinals mount an absurd comeback in game 6, they’ll be well set up to win game 7?