This, of course, you know. The Cubs have, in fact, done this often in 2016: 16 different times during the regular season, they won at least three straight games. And, the Indians lost three straight seven different times in 2016 — three was their longest losing streak of the season.
Five times in World Series history, a team has accomplished what the Cubs are setting out to do. (For this discussion I’m going to skip over the 1903 World Series, the very first one, which was a best-of-nine. The Red Sox went down three games to one and then won four straight to take the series.)
Here’s how the five previous teams accomplished this difficult feat.
The Pirates were playing in just their third World Series and first since 1909. The Bucs (back then, they were often nicknamed “Corsairs”) broke open a tied Game 5 by scoring four runs in the last three innings to win 6-3 at Washington.
They then went home for the final two games. Game 6 was a tight, 3-2 affair and the Senators took a 7-6 lead into the bottom of the eighth in Game 7. The first two Pirates were easy outs, then Earl Smith doubled off Senators ace Walter Johnson. Another double scored pinch-runner Emil Yde to tie the game. In modern baseball a reliever comes in, but not back then -- Johnson continued. Roger Peckinpaugh -- who made eight (!) errors in that series, then committed a throwing error on a ball that might have ended the inning. Instead the bases were loaded and future Cub Kiki Cuyler doubled in two runs, the eventual game-winners.
The Braves had defeated the Yankees in the previous year’s World Series and were one game from making it two straight over the Bronx Bombers. Bob Turley threw a five-hit shutout in Game 5, and then the series went back to Milwaukee for Games 6 and 7.
Game 6 went to the bottom of the ninth tied, and Yankees reliever Ryne Duren (after whom Ryne Sandberg is named, incidentally), who was kind of the Andrew Miller of his time, was in his third inning of relief. He struck out the side and the game went to extras. Gil McDougald led off the 10th with a home run, and three singles made it 4-2 Yankees. That extra run would prove to be important, as the Braves scored a run and Hank Aaron, who had singled in that run, went to third with two out, but was stranded.
The Yankees broke open a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning of Game 7. Elston Howard gave the Yankees a lead with an RBI single, and after another hit, Bill Skowron put the game out of reach with a three-run homer.
The Yankees were the first team to make this comeback with two road wins.
This was the Mickey Lolich series. Lolich, who’d been overshadowed by his teammate Denny McLain’s 31-win season that year, threw a complete-game win in Game 2. With the Tigers down three games to one, he gave up three runs to the Cardinals in the first inning of Game 5 — and then allowed just six hits the rest of the way in finishing another CG win, 5-3.
The series went back to St. Louis for Games 6 and 7. The Tigers crushed the Cardinals 13-1 in Game 6, scoring 10 runs in the third inning.
The Tigers came back with Lolich again in Game 7, on two days’ rest. The game went scoreless into the seventh, when the Tigers scored three times on a two-RBI triple by Jim Northrup and an RBI double by Bill Freehan. They added one more run in the ninth.
Lolich, meanwhile, allowed just four singles until there were two out in the ninth, when Mike Shannon homered. Lolich retired Tim McCarver on a foul popup to win the game and the World Series for Detroit.
Lolich was a really good pitcher who’s been almost forgotten today. Some late-career injuries prevented him from getting to 3,000 strikeouts (he had 2,832), which probably would have put him in the Hall of Fame. He was a three-time All-Star who finished in the top three of Cy Young voting twice and posted 48.8 career bWAR.
The Pirates, down three games to one, couldn’t score for the first five innings of Game 5 off Mike Flanagan, but then scored runs in a hurry, winning 7-1.
The series then went to Baltimore for Games 6 and 7. No one scored for the first six innings of Game 6, when the Pirates got RBI singles from Dave Parker and Willie Stargell to take a 2-0 lead, which they extended to 4-0 in the next inning. Brilliant pitching by John Candelaria and Kent Tekulve completed a seven-hit shutout, helped by two double plays.
With the score 2-1 Pirates in the bottom of the eighth in Game 7, the Orioles loaded the bases on walks. Eddie Murray, just 23 and in his third big-league season but already a star, hit a ball to deep right field — caught, to end the inning. The Pirates tacked on two more in the ninth and Tekulve retired the Orioles 1-2-3 in the ninth for the Series win.
Game 5 of this series, with the Royals trailing three games to one, went rather uneventfully to Kansas City 6-1, with future Cub Danny Jackson the winning pitcher.
As you surely know, this series could likely have gone to the Cardinals if modern replay review had been available 31 years ago.
You can see in the replay how badly umpire Don Denkinger missed that call in Game 6. In 1985, there was no recourse.
Even after that call, though, the Cardinals still led 1-0, and there was just a runner on first. Three outs and St. Louis would have won the Series.
Todd Worrell gave up another single, and a bunt attempt wound up forcing Jorge Orta at third. One out, but a passed ball then allowed the runners to advance to second and third. Hal McRae was then intentionally walked to set up a possible force at any base, and as you can see in the video above, Dane Iorg singled in two runs to give the Royals Game 6.
Game 7 was an anticlimax. Bret Saberhagen threw a five-hit shutout and the Royals smashed out 14 hits and scored 11 runs off seven Cardinals pitchers for the World Series win.
To this day the Cardinals involved in that Game 6 think they should have won it. We will, of course, never know.
So there’s history here, though not much of it. Five times, in 45 World Series that have gone to a Game 5 with a team up three games to one (there were two others that went to Game 5 with a team up three games to none, with one tie). It hasn’t been done in 31 years.
The Cubs have done things this year that haven’t been done in longer than that (most wins since 1910, first World Series appearance since 1945).
Why not? They’ll surely have a good chance at least to send the Series back to Cleveland with Jon Lester going in Game 5.