The Cubs are now in a position where, in order to advance to the World Series, they'd have to do what only one previous team has done when down three games to none: win four straight elimination games. 34 previous teams have been in this position in seven-game baseball postseason series. Only the 2004 Red Sox have accomplished this very difficult feat.
Of course, you know that the general manager of that team, Theo Epstein, now is in charge of the Cubs' baseball operations. Here's what Theo said when asked if the Cubs can repeat the Red Sox' comeback:
"Show up and win a ballgame tomorrow," Epstein said. "If we show up and win tomorrow, we're dangerous. Trust me. It's been done before, rumor has it. We can do it. We've had nine winning streaks of four or more games this year, so we get hot, we get really hot, we can do it. We just have to show up and win tomorrow."
"Tomorrow," of course, is now today. I thought it might be interesting to look back at that 2004 Red Sox/Yankees ALCS and see how each game came out. The first three games, all Red Sox defeats, were quite different from the Cubs/Mets games so far in this year's NLCS, although, as in the Cubs' case, Boston lost the first two on the road and then Game 3 at home.
October 12, 2004, Game 1: Yankees 10, Red Sox 7. The Yankees chased Curt Schilling out of the game after three innings and led 8-0 going into the seventh. But Boston charged back with a five-run seventh and two-run eighth to make it 8-7. David Ortiz tripled (!) in a pair of runs in that eighth inning. But the Yankees put it away with two of their own in the bottom of the eighth.
October 13, 2004, Game 2: Yankees 3, Red Sox 1. Again, the Yankees shut down Boston's offense for the first several innings, behind ex-Cub Jon Lieber, and took a 3-0 lead. Boston scored one in the eighth, but had only five total hits.
October 16, 2004, Game 3: Yankees 19, Red Sox 8. At this point if you're a Red Sox fan, you've probably given up. The 19 runs is the second-most ever scored in any postseason game, and the Yankees crushed baseballs off six Boston pitchers for 22 hits, including six doubles, a triple and four home runs.
October 17, 2004, Game 4: Red Sox 6, Yankees 4, 12 innings. Now here's where the series gets interesting, because not only were the Red Sox down three games to none, but they were losing Game 4 with three outs to go. Kevin Millar walked to lead off the ninth, and Dave Roberts ran for him. Then this happened:
You'll note that Roberts didn't wait -- went on the first pitch. (FWIW, Quintin Berry is on the Cubs' NLCS roster to do exactly this sort of thing, if the situation presents itself.) And you can see how close the play was. Ex-Cub Bill Mueller singled Roberts in to tie the game. The Red Sox loaded the bases in the inning, but could not score further. The Yankees had the bases loaded in the 11th, but didn't score.
In the 12th, current Cubs hitting consultant Manny Ramirez singled. And then:
You can hear Joe Buck's call presaging his 2011 "We'll see you tomorrow night," an early homage to his dad's 1991 World Series call.
October 18, 2004, Game 5: Red Sox 5, Yankees 4, 14 innings. The Yankees led 4-2 going into the bottom of the eighth, six outs from the World Series. Ortiz led off the inning with a home run. Millar walked and Trot Nixon singled him to third, where he scored the tying run on a sacrifice fly by Jason Varitek.
The game went into long extra innings; both teams had scoring chances, but came up empty, until the 14th, when Johnny Damon walked with one out and Ramirez drew a two-out walk. Ortiz again, this time with two strikes:
That wasn't much of a hit -- a broken-bat single barely past the infield. But it scored the winning run and Boston had come to within three games to two. They'd still have to go back to New York to win two more, though, if they wanted to take the series.
October 19, 2004, Game 6: Red Sox 4, Yankees 2. For just the second time in the series (the other, Game 5) the Red Sox scored first, and this time it was a big hit: a three-run homer by former Cub Mark Bellhorn off Lieber in the first inning. (Bellhorn and Lieber were teammates on the 2002 Cubs, who lost 95 games.)
Schilling and two Boston relievers held the Yankees to six hits and two runs, so it was on to Game 7.
October 20, 2004, Game 7: Red Sox 10, Yankees 3. After so many comebacks, close games and extra innings in this series, the decisive game was a blowout. The Red Sox hit three home runs in the first two innings, the biggest a grand slam by Damon. Bellhorn put the cherry on top with a colossal homer into the right-field upper deck at Yankee Stadium, and the Red Sox had the most incredible comeback in baseball history.
There are parallels between that series and this one beyond Theo, if you think those things are meaningful. The team the Red Sox beat was from New York. The team the Cubs must beat is from New York. And that's not just me saying that, it's Anthony Rizzo:
"One New York team has blown a 3-0 lead," Rizzo said. "Let's make it the other New York team."
As noted in the summaries of the games, other Red Sox beyond Theo in that series had or now have associations with the Cubs -- Lieber, Bellhorn, Mueller, Ramirez. Three other ex-Cubs played for the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS: Tom Gordon, Miguel Cairo and Tanyon Sturtze.
Is this likely to happen? A second comeback for the ages by a Theo-led team? Of course not. Is it possible? Until the Mets defeat the Cubs a fourth time, of course it's possible.
There's one more thing I want to point out today, unrelated to all of this. Today, October 21, 2015, is Back To The Future Day, the day that Marty McFly time-traveled to in "Back To The Future II" and saw a video noting that the Cubs had won the World Series.
The Cubs, obviously, can't win the World Series today, nor could any team; the movie-makers had no idea there would be an extra round of playoffs when the film was released in 1989. But tonight the Cubs could start a comeback that could get them there. It's been done. Here's hoping the Cubs join the Red Sox in performing an historic baseball feat.