By Cliff Corcoran
Comebacks from an 0-2 deficit in a best-of-five series aren't especially common in Major League Baseball. Nonetheless, that is the task facing the Red Sox and Yankees heading into their respective Division Series Games 3 on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET and 7:30 p.m. ET, both on FS1), as well as the D-backs when they host the Dodgers in Game 3 of their NLDS on Monday (10 p.m. ET, TBS). Of the 75 best-of-five series* to start 2-0 prior to this year, 45 (60 percent) ended in sweeps, 15 more ended in four games, and six more went the distance only for the team with the early lead in the series to win anyway. Altogether, teams that have gone up 2-0 in a best-of-five series have won 66 of 75 series, or 88 percent.
*including the League Championship Series from 1969 to 1984, and the Division Series in 1981 and from 1995 to 2016
Here is the remaining 12 percent, the nine comebacks from 0-2. For what it's worth, this list already includes both the Yankees and Red Sox as victors and the Indians and Astros as losers.
1981 NLDS, Dodgers over Astros
Back then, the home-field format for best-of-five series was 2-3, meaning that, after Houston won the first two games, the final three games were played in Los Angeles. The Dodgers scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning of Game 3 on the way to a 6-1 victory, then rode a complete-game gem from rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela to a 2-1 victory in Game 4. The Astros had Nolan Ryan ready to go on full rest for Game 5 coming off a complete-game win in Game 1, but the Dodgers scored three against him in the sixth while Jerry Reuss twirled a shutout and LA won 4-0. Altogether, the Dodgers outscored Houston 12-2 in those final three games. L.A. then went on to win its first championship since 1965.
1982 ALCS Brewers over Angels
Here, again, the home team won every game. The Halos won the first two, then the series turned on the performances of two veteran pitchers who had been acquired at the end of August. In Game 3, the Brewers' Don Sutton held the Angels scoreless for seven innings while Harvey's Wallbangers built up a solid lead in an eventual 5-3 win. In Game 4, Milwaukee jumped all over Angels starter Tommy John and won 9-5. The finale was a classic. Both teams scored one in the first. The Angels added one in the third and one in the fourth, but Brewers left fielder Ben Oglivie homered off Bruce Kison in the bottom of the fourth to cut that lead in half, and Milwaukee rallied for two runs against reliever Luis Sanchez in the seventh, with first baseman Cecil Cooper delivering two-out, bases-loaded single that gave his team a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
1984 NLCS Padres over Cubs
In the postseason for the first time since 1945, the Cubs won Game 1 of this series 13-0 tally and headed to San Diego up 2-0. However, Chicago's Game 3 starter, Dennis Eckersley, fell apart in the middle innings of Game 3, a 7-1 Cubs loss, and the Padres won a seesaw Game 4 on a two-run walkoff homer off Lee Smith by postseason veteran Steve Garvey.
That set up one of the most infamous plays in baseball history. With the score tied at three in the bottom of the seventh, Cubs starter Rick Sutcliffe walked Padres left fielder Carmelo Martinez on four pitches to start the inning. San Diego manager Dick Williams then had Martinez bunted to second. Pinch-hitter Tim Flannery followed with a soft groundball to first base, but the ball shot right through the legs of Cubs first baseman Leon Durham, allowing Martinez to score. The Padres followed with three more runs, and Goose Gossage, another postseason veteran, shut the door in the eighth and ninth.
1995 ALDS Mariners over Yankees
The first year of the current Division Series format produced one of the best LDS ever played. Having staged one of the greatest regular-season comebacks of all-time, concluding with a one-game playoff win over the Angels at the Kingdome to claim the AL West title, the Mariners arrived at Yankee Stadium and dropped a pair. Fortunately for the M's, the next three games would be in Seattle. Future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson struck out 10 in seven innings in a 6-4 Game 3 win. In Game 4, Edgar Martinez's eighth-inning grand slam off Yankees closer John Wetteland broke a 6-6 tie and the Mariners won 11-8.
Game 5 saw six lead changes. The Yankees were up 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth when another future Hall of Famer, Ken Griffey Jr., hit a solo home run off David Cone, Griffey's fifth homer of the series. The Mariners then loaded the bases with two outs. Having thrown more than 140 pitches, an exhausted Cone walked pinch-hitter Doug Strange on a two-out full count to force in the tying run. The Yankees broke the tie against Johnson, pitching in relief, in the top of the 11th. However, Yankee manager Buck Showalter didn't trust Wetteland after Game 4, so Game 3 loser Jack McDowell remained in the game to face the heart of the Mariners order in the bottom of the inning. Mariners second baseman Joey Cora singled, Griffey singled, and Martinez came through once again, this time with a walk-off double to left that plated both runners and, in the minds of many, saved baseball in Seattle.
1999 ALDS Red Sox over Indians
Cleveland won Game 1, 3-2, on a walk-off single by third baseman Travis Fryman, then blew out Boston 11-1 in Game 2. Moving to Fenway, the Red Sox returned serve with wins of 9-3 and 23-7. Having finally adopted the 2-2-1 home-field format, Game 5 took the series back to Cleveland, albeit without an off-day following that 30-run Game 4.
The early innings were all offense, with the Sox tying it up at 8-8 in the top of the fourth. Then Pedro Martinez entered the game.
Martinez, then at the peak of his greatness, had thrown four scoreless innings in Game 1, but came out of that game with a latissimus dorsi strain, which was still bothering him five days later. In his 2015 autobiography, "Pedro," Martinez estimates he was at about 60 percent in Game 5. He didn't have his fastball, but he was wily enough with his off-speed stuff that he struck out eight Indians across six innings without allowing a hit or a run. Meanwhile, Boston's Troy O'Leary hit a three-run home run off Cleveland reliever Paul Shuey in the seventh, which proved to be the winning blow in a 12-8 Red Sox win.
2001 ALDS Yankees over A's
This was the first best-of-five series in MLB history in which the home team lost the first two games but rallied to win the series. The most memorable game in this series was Game 3, a pitchers' duel in Oakland between the Yankees' Mike Mussina and Oakland's Barry Zito in which the only run came on a one-out home run by Yankee catcher Jorge Posada in the top of the fifth. No one remembers the homer, however. They remember this.
The Yankees won that game 1-0. They then won Game 4, 9-2, and returned to the Bronx for what, by then, seemed like a pre-ordained 5-3 win for the team that had won the past three World Series.
2003 ALDS Red Sox over A's
The A's took Game 1 of this series, on a 12th-inning, bases-loaded squeeze bunt by catcher Ramon Hernandez. Game 2 was an easy 5-1 victory behind Barry Zito. Back at Fenway, however, Game 3 turned on a pair of baserunning mistakes in the top of the sixth.
Facing Boston starter Derek Lowe with the Sox up 1-0, A's center fielder Eric Byrnes led off with a single, stole second, and moved to third on a groundout, after which DH Erubiel Durazo drew a walk. Shortstop Miguel Tejada followed with a weak dribbler to the left side of the mound. Lowe sprung off the mound and tried a bare-handed flip home to cut down Byrnes, but Lowe's throw went wild and to the backstop. Nonetheless, Boston catcher Jason Varitek, while attempting to catch Lowe's toss, blocked Byrnes from the plate. Byrnes, limping away from the play, appeared more aggrieved by the contact than by the fact that he missed the plate, shoving Varitek rather than doubling-back to touch the plate and allowing Varitek to tag him out for the second out of the inning.
After an intentional walk to third baseman Eric Chavez loaded the bases, Hernandez hit a chopper to shortstop that got by Nomar Garciappara for an error. Tejada, on his way around third base, collided with third baseman Bill Mueller, who was going over to cover the bag. However, instead of continuing full speed to home, Tejada stopped in the base line to argue for an obstruction call and was tagged out. With the game tied 1-1 going into the 11th, Sox right fielder Trot Nixon hit a two-run walk off home run off Rich Harden.
The Red Sox won Game 4 in their final at-bat, as well, erasing a 4-3 A's lead via a two-run double by DH David Ortiz off A's closer Keith Foulke in the bottom of the eighth. With Pedro Martinez on the hill for Game 5 back in Oakland, sixth-inning home runs by Varitek (a solo shot leading off the inning) and left fielder Manny Ramirez (a three-run job) gave the Sox the runs they needed in a 4-3 win.
2012 NLDS Giants over Reds
This remains the only 0-2 comeback in a best-of-five series in MLB history in which the road team won every game. Despite their starter, Johnny Cueto, lasting just six pitches due to injury, the Reds pieced together a 5-2 win in Game 1, with Mat Latos doing the heavy lifting on the mound. In Game 2, they torched San Francisco 9-0.
Back in Cincinnati for Game 3, the Reds could only manage one first-inning run against Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong and a quartet of relievers. San Francisco won that game 2-1, with the winning run scoring in the top of the 10th thanks to a passed ball and a bobble by third baseman Scott Rolen. The Giants' bats finally came alive in Game 4, an 8-3 win best remembered for Tim Lincecum's 4 1/3 innings of relief. Game 5 was decided by a six-run top of the fifth capped by Buster Posey's grand slam off Game 1 hero Latos, a 6-4 Giants victory. The 2012 Giants and '81 Dodgers are the only teams to fall behind 0-2 in a Division Series then go on to win the World Series.
2015 ALDS Blue Jays over Rangers
The Rangers beat Toronto's big Trade Deadline addition David Price in Game 1. In Game 2, a Cole Hamels/Marcus Stroman duel proved to be mere prelude to a 14-inning marathon decided by a series of Rangers singles against 42-year-old LaTroy Hawkins in the top of the 14th. The momentum changed in Texas thanks to a strong Game 3 start from Toronto's Marco Estrada and a three-run homer from deadline addition Troy Tulowitzki. Toronto jumped on the Rangers' Game 4 starter Derek Holland, putting up seven early runs in an 8-4 victory that sent the series back to Toronto. There, a tightly-contested Game 5 turned on an unforgettable seventh inning.
With the game tied 2-2, Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor led off the top of the seventh with a single off Jays reliever Aaron Sanchez, was bunted to second, and moved to third on a groundout. Then something I'd never seen before, or since, happened. With Shin-Soo Choo at the plate, catcher Russell Martin's return throw to Sanchez hit Choo's bat and ricocheted into foul territory, allowing Odor to score the tie-breaking run.
You'd think a play like that would rattle the Jays, but instead it was the Rangers who fell apart in the bottom of the inning. The first three Jays to the plate all reached on errors involving Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus (though only the first, a flubbed grounder, and third, a dropped throw, were charged to him).
After a force-out at home, righty Sam Dyson replaced Rangers starter Hamels on the mound. Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson lifted a flare over Odor at second base to tie the game (though Odor got the out at second base to make it a fielder's choice). Then came Toronto slugger Jose Bautista, a game-breaking three-run home run that set the final score at 6-3, and the bat flip heard 'round the world.
Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.