After the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, I remember writer Bill Simmons remarking that one of the best things about the 3-0 comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS was that every time a team ever fell behind 3-0 in any sport, you'd see highlights of the Red Sox celebrations at Yankee Stadium for decades to come. Thirteen years later, this has proven to be 100 percent true: TBS even played Dave Roberts' steal before Game 4 of the NLCS on Wednesday night, a particularly nice touch considering Roberts was managing the team trying to close out their 3-0 series lead.
The Red Sox were not actually the first team in sports to ever come back from a 3-0 deficit; the 1975 Islanders and the 1942 Maple Leafs had done it in the NHL. Hockey has a thing about these sort of comebacks. The only two 3-0 comebacks since Boston's comeback were in hockey, with the Flyers beating the Bruins in 2010 and, most memorably, the Kings coming back to beat the Sharks in 2014 and ultimately winning the Stanley Cup. But it has been limited to the NHL. No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, and no MLB team has done it since the Red Sox.
Last night, the Cubs began their bid to try to become the next team to do it, and even though they've got a long way to go, "the Cubs trying to win their second World Series" is as weird a circumstance as "the Red Sox trying to win their first since 1918," so maybe the planets are aligned.
But the one thing that isn't weird is the situation the Cubs are in right now: down 3-1. Being down 3-1 and coming back to win isn't just impossible, it's becoming downright reasonable. After all, the Cubs just did it last season.
To give the Cubs and their fans more hope, today we take a look at the five most recent 3-1 comebacks. There are more than you might think, and they happened more recently than you might realize. 3-0 might seem daunting, but all it takes to turn that into the decidedly less daunting 3-1 is one measly win. The Cubs now have that win. As you'll see, once you have that, the hill is decidedly less steep.
2016 World Series: Chicago Cubs over Cleveland Indians
No one remembers this now, and there's really no reason to anymore, but the World Series crowds at Wrigley Field during the only Cubs championship in the past 109 years were anxious. The Indians were wiping the Cubs out, and fans wanted to avoid the embarrassment of having Cleveland clinch at Wrigley. The Cubs snuck out a Game 5 win, outmuscled the Indians in Game 6 and … well, you know what happened in Game 7. The 2017 Cubbies face the same thing as last year's team: A 3-1 deficit with two games coming up on the road. If they could do it last year, they could do it this year.
2012 NLCS: San Francisco Giants over St. Louis Cardinals
It was all set up for the Cardinals to advance to their second consecutive World Series. A Game 4 win over Tim Lincecum gave them a 3-1 lead with one more game at Busch Stadium, against Barry Zito, who had struggled all season and had just gotten drilled by the Reds in the NLDS. Instead, Zito threw 7 2/3 shutout innings when the Giants needed it most. Starting with that game, the Giants outscored the Cards 20-1 in the final three games of the series. They would keep stomping, sweeping the Tigers in the World Series for their second title in three years. After that Lincecum loss, the Giants won their next seven games.
2007 ALCS: Boston Red Sox over Cleveland Indians
More Cleveland pain, and this one was particularly brutal because, like the Giants-Cardinals series above, the implosion was total and all-encompassing. The Indians won Game 4 behind Paul Byrd to take the 3-1 series lead, and then completely fell apart. The Red Sox outscored the Indians 30-5 in the final three games. Even worse, there was a flash of hope in Game 7 at Fenway Park, trailing only 3-2 in the seventh inning before the Red Sox scored eight runs in two innings to put them away. The Indians wouldn't win another playoff series until last season.
2004 ALCS: Boston Red Sox over New York Yankees
We're pretty sure we've covered this one. In fact, we're not even counting this one as one of the last five 3-1 comebacks, even though technically it is.
2003 NLCS: Florida Marlins over Chicago Cubs
There's no need to show the Bartman play here -- the mystique and mystery of that play have not abated, even though the Cubs finally got that title -- but it is worth remembering that the Cubs had three chances to win their title, and only one of them was on Bartman's night. Josh Beckett shut them out in Game 5, the nightmare eighth inning happened in Game 6 and, oh yeah, the Cubs were up 5-3 after four innings in Game 7. The Cubs had many chances to erase the Bartman play. They didn't take advantage of any of them.
1996 NLCS: Atlanta Braves over St. Louis Cardinals
We were awfully close to a Cardinals-Yankees World Series between the manager the Cardinals had just fired (Joe Torre) and the one they hired to replace him (Tony La Russa). The Cardinals won Game 4 -- with a very fired-up Dennis Eckersley nailing down the save -- and then, in what you're noticing as a pattern, just collapsed. They lost 14-0 in Game 5, fell in a nailbiter 3-1 in Game 6 and then rolled over in a 15-0 Game 7 loss. Cardinals starter Donovan Osborne gave up six runs in the first, and it was over. It would be another decade until La Russa got his first title in St. Louis. The Braves, oddly enough, still haven't won one since.