By Matthew Leach
Whenever a baseball team -- a team in any sport, really -- begins a comeback from a deep deficit, we start thinking back to previous successful comebacks. It's 9-1, and then it's 9-4, and the brain naturally recollects that one time when the old ball club pulled it off.
But there's a reason comebacks stand out. They're rare. If teams always finished scaling that mountain, it wouldn't be such a big deal.
In short, there's a reason Jim Rooker walked from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia in 1989. There's a reason Cardinals fans still remember a 2004 So Taguchi homer off of Kyle Farnsworth like it was yesterday. And there's a reason that barely half of the starters were still in the game when the Indians finished off an astonishing comeback win against the Mariners in 2001.
We always note that baseball is a game without a clock, and that is in fact true. But your 27 outs are as close as it gets to a game clock, and the more of them you use up, the shorter the game gets.
With all of that in mind, here's a look at some standout comebacks in baseball history.
The anniversary. We begin with the game that spurred this little thought exercise, because it was 24 years ago today as I write this.
On Aug. 21, 1990, the Dodgers took an 11-1 lead into the eighth inning against the Phillies. This certainly should have been safe. Philadelphia finished the year with the fifth-fewest runs in baseball, and the Dodgers bullpen finished with the fifth-fewest relief losses.
But, well, weird things happen.
The Phils made the slightest bit of noise in the eighth, with a two-run Von Hayes double that made it 11-3 going to the ninth. That raised their win probability from zero percent to ... zero percent.
A walk, an error, and a pair of singles opened the ninth, and it was 11-5, and that win probability was all the way up to 1 percent. Sil Campusano flied out and it was back to zero.
But another walk, another error, and a double by Dale Murphy, and it was 11-8, and suddenly things were a little scary with John Kruk coming to the plate. Kruk went deep and it was tied, but believe it or not, that didn't kill the rally.
Rod Booker singled, stole second, and scored on Carmelo Martinez's double, and the Phillies had a lead they would not relinquish in the bottom of the ninth.
That's a long walk. It does happen sometimes that the call of a game is as famous the game itself, but it's generally for good reasons. Jack Buck's "Go crazy, folks!" will live forever alongside Ozzie Smith's 1985 home run in the National League Championship Series.
But a first-inning comment in a loss? That's not often one for posterity. Jim Rooker managed the feat.
On June 8, 1989, the Pirates raced to a 10-0 lead over the Phillies in the top of the first inning. They had Bob Walk, an All-Star the previous year, on the mound, and the '89 Phillies were not unlike the '90 Phillies -- a low-scoring bunch.
So Rooker uttered the words that still follow him: "If we don't win, I'll walk back to Pittsburgh." It gets somewhat lost that this was less a boast and more his way of expressing that it wouldn't be a very enjoyable flight if the Bucs let the lead get away.
The Bucs, of course, did let the lead get away. Little by little, the Phillies chipped away. They scored two in the first, two in the third, and two in the fourth. Pittsburgh made it 11-6 in the fifth, but it was 11-10 after six. The Phillies blew it open with five runs in the eighth, highlighted by Darren Daulton's two-run, tie-breaking single.
True to his word, Rooker did walk from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, though not immediately after the game. He instead used it as a chance to raise money for a couple of charities, and made the trip in October.
All at once. Just start with the Hall of Famers, and you know that the June 15, 1925 game between the Indians and Athletics was quite a night. Al Simmons, Tris Speaker, and Jimmie Foxx all played, and Speaker managed against Connie Mack.
And that's before you get to the comeback, which stood alone for 76 years as the biggest in baseball history.
The Indians led, 14-2 and 15-3, and had a 15-4 advantage in the middle of the eighth. Then came the deluge. Thirteen Philadelphia runs (what is it with Philly and comebacks?) turned an 11-run deficit to a 17-15 win.
We don't have the play-by-play, so we don't know all of the details. But Simmons had three hits and three RBIs on the game, as well as the only A's homer.
Even the best have bad days. Twelve runs still stands as the largest lead ever squandered, but it now has company. On Aug. 5, 2001, one of the great teams of all time let a 12-run lead get away.
Seattle was up, 12-0, against Cleveland in the fourth inning. It was 14-2 in the seventh. A team that had eight All-Stars held a 12-run lead with nine outs to get.
They couldn't make it stand.
What may stand out most about this game is that the Mariners never turned to their scrubs. Lou Piniella used the best relievers from a great bullpen, and still the M's fell.
After John Halama, the only non-late-inning guy who pitched, Piniella turned to Norm Charlton, Jeff Nelson, and closer Kaz Sasaki, and they all gave up runs. It went to extras tied at 14, and in the 11th, Jolbert Cabrera singled home Kenny Lofton to end the marathon.
And one from the personal vault. I saw a few notable comebacks myself in 10 years covering the St. Louis Cardinals, but none stands out like July 20, 2004.
The Cards had begun the surge that would take them to 105 wins, and they led the second-place Cubs by nine games in the NL Central. Chicago took a 7-1 lead against Matt Morris, and it was 8-2 going into the sixth.
An Albert Pujols single started a four-run rally, and an inning later, Pujols hit his second homer to make it 8-7. Taguchi's long ball tied it up in the seventh, and Pujols hit his third of the game to take the lead in the eighth. The superstar finished 5-for-5, but talked up Taguchi's big hit in the postgame.
The game gave St. Louis a 10-game lead over Chicago with no head-to-head meetings remaining, effectively eliminating the Cubs in the division race.
It also spawned an all-time great quote. When reporters approached Morris in the cramped Wrigley clubhouse postgame, the first words out of his mouth were, "this comeback wouldn't have been possible without me."
Matthew Leach is a Sports on Earth contributor and editor for MLB.com. He has worked for the site since 2001 and was its Cardinals beat reporter from 2002 through 2011 (previous sports writing experience came at NASCAR online). A native of Tallahassee, Fla., he lives in Athens, Ga., with his wife, Erin, their dog, Molly, and their cat, Beatrice. Follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach.