The Houston Astros entered the 2019 World Series against the Washington Nationals as the biggest favorites to win since 2007. But a funny thing happened on the way to a Houston coronation, the Astros dropped the first two games of the series. At home.
Now they head to Washington to continue the series Friday evening with their backs against the wall. The team that was absolutely loaded with starting pitching, a shutdown closer, some of the best young hitters in the game, and the sharpest analytics department in baseball finds themselves in a must-win situation against a team with one of the worst bullpens in baseball.
Coming back from dropping the first two games at home is difficult, but not totally unprecedented. Three times in World Series history, a team has dropped the first two games of the series at home only to come back and win it all. It happened in 1996 when the Yankees lost their first two games in the Bronx, only to come back and win the next four games to bring home their first title in 18 years. It happened ten years prior to that when the Mets dropped their first two games at Shea Stadium, but battled back to win the next two in Boston, before a dramatic ending in Game 6 would help catapult them to a title in seven games.
But the first time a team battled back after dropping their first two games at home came the year before that, and it all began in Kansas City.
The 1985 Royals were a flawed team that struggled to score runs, but were led by future Hall of Famer George Brett and a terrific stable of young pitchers. They had fallen behind the Toronto Blue Jays 3-1 in the American League Championship Series, but had stormed back to win the next three games to win the pennant. But looming was the 101-win Cardinals, a team built on speed and defense. Even without speedster Vince Coleman, who was out with a freak injury from a slowly-moving tarp machine, the Cardinals entered the series confident a championship was within reach.
That confidence was only bolstered when the Cardinals took Game 1 in Kansas City. John Tudor, one of the best pitchers in baseball that year, shut down the Royals bats for a 3-1 Cardinals victory. The Royals looked to even the series in Game 2, carrying a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning. But manager Dick Howser’s faith in closer Dan Quisenberry had been shaken that year by some mediocre outings. Instead, he left starter Charlie Leibrandt in to protect a ninth inning lead, and the lefty gave up four runs before Quiz was finally summoned. The Royals fell 4-2, digging themselves in a huge hole in the series.
The odds of coming back didn’t seem great at that point. The Cardinals had won two-thirds of all their home games that year, while the Royals had been barely above .500 on the road. For Game Three, Kansas City would be starting pitching wunderkind Bret Saberhagen, who would win the Cy Young Award that year, but he was suffering from a bruised hand he had suffered in the ALCS. Said Saberhagen, “It feels like I’ve been in the training room every day. I feel very beat up. I feel bruised all over.”
Sure, the Royals had shown their ability to come back in that series against the Jays, but the Cardinals presented a much bigger challenge. Opposing them in Game Three would be Joaquin Andujar, the only pitcher in baseball to win 20 or more game in each of the last two seasons.
“I`m not going to concede anything,” said catcher Jim Sundberg, “but it`ll probably be more difficult than coming back like we did down two games in the playoffs against Toronto.”
The Royals kept their spirits up, however, and the fact Andujar had slumped badly to end they year gave them hope they could get to the right-hander. Shortstop Buddy Biancalana put up a good face, telling reporters, “Maybe, we have the Cardinals where we want them now.”
The Royals would get to Andujar, with Lonnie Smith smacking a two-run double to make it 2-0. Frank White, the first second baseman to hit cleanup in a World Series game since Jackie Robinson, lived up to his spot in the batting order with a two-run home run to give the Royals a four-run lead. White would add an RBI double in the seventh, and the optimistic Biancalana would cap it off with an RBI single for a 6-1 win. Saberhagen, who joked he might have to leave the game at any moment for the birth of his son, was brilliant with eight strikeouts and one walk in a complete game.
Still, the Cardinals were on the precipice of another championship after Tudor blanked the Royals in a 3-0 Cardinals win in Game Four. But Royals star George Brett felt the pressure was on the Cardinals.
“We know we’ve still got a long road to go, and I don`t mean I-70. But there`s something about this bunch of guys. I mean, we sure play unbelievable when the pressure’s on the other team, don`t we? We get down to Toronto 3-1 and beat ‘em. Here, we fall behind 3-1 to St. Louis, and we aren`t dead yet.”
Cardinals skippper Whitey Herzog decided to start Bob Forsch to give Danny Cox an extra day to rest his elbow, and that decision backfired when the Royals jumped on Forsch for four runs in the first two innings, knocking him out of the game. Danny Jackson, who had come up with a huge complete game in the ALCS to stave off elimination, did so again in th World Series for a 6-1 Royals victory.
“We came to the ballpark and everybody was joking around. We weren’t thinking about elimination or about losing. I don`t know why. But that`s how this team responds.”
That brought the series back to Kansas City for Game 6, giving the Royals new life. Charlie Leibrandt got a chance to redeem himself and blanked the Cardinals for seven innings, but a Brian Harper RBI single put the Cards on top. The Royals went into the ninth against St. Louis closer Todd Worrell down 1-0, three outs from elimination, with Jorge Orta to lead things off.
Well, you probably know the rest. Orta was safe at first (I DON’T CARE WHAT THE REPLAYS SHOWED, HE WAS SAFE), the Royals rallied, the Cardinals imploded, and the next night the Royals were crowned champions. They had completed one of the most impossible and improbably comebacks in World Series history.
Can the Astros make a similar comeback? Well they are certainly the more talented team. They were pretty good on the road this year and the Nationals bullpen will put every lead at risk for them.
But the momentum is certainly on the side of the Nationals. Maybe the Astros can come back, but Don Denkinger ain’t walking through that door.
Will the Astros come back and win this series?
This poll is closed
Yes, the Astros will still win the World Series
No, the Nationals will hang on to win the World Series