Each League Championship Series stands at 3-1. The Phillies are in position to clinch tonight against the Dodgers, and the Yankees could clinch on Thursday against the Angels.
What everyone in the Los Angeles market wants to know, of course, is what kind of history is on its side. As always, it comes down to Yogi Berra's axiom: It ain't over till it's over.
Since the inception of best-of-seven LCS play in 1985, 30 teams have taken a 3-1 lead in both leagues combined. That includes the Phillies in the National League and the Yankees in the American League, thanks to the latter's 10-1 wipeout of the Angels on Tuesday.
Of those 28 previous 3-1 leaders, 22 went on to the World Series. The first exception to the rule actually occurred in the 1985 postseason, when the Royals got a shutout from Danny Jackson in Game 5 and proceeded to beat the Blue Jays in seven for the AL pennant and then defeat the Cardinals in seven for their lone World Series title to date.
The other five exceptions were the Red Sox over the Angels in 1986, the Braves over the Cardinals in '96, the Marlins over the Cubs in 2003, the Red Sox over the Yankees in '04 and the Red Sox over the Indians in '07. That is significant in that three of those examples happened over the past six seasons, which is about as rosy a picture as it could be now for L.A.
As for that much-anticipated occurrence of the first Freeway Series starting next week at Angel Stadium, it would require a baseball first. There never has been a single postseason in which two teams came back from 3-1 deficits in a best-of-seven LCS. Can the Angels and Dodgers both do it? Is that Disney? It certainly never has been something a single market needed to happen.
Remember what a rookie named Dustin Pedroia said three years ago? He had homered in the bottom of the seventh of Game 7 against Cleveland, the biggest hit of that night. It propelled the Red Sox to their second World Series title in a four-season span.
"We were down, 3-1, and still felt that we could win," Pedroia said. "There's obviously those three nights you go to bed and you don't sleep. All you think about is trying to win and trying to figure out how we're going to turn this around. We figured it out."
The Phillies are first with a chance to clinch, as Game 5 of their NLCS against the Dodgers starts at 8:07 p.m. ET at Citizens Bank Park (TBS). Vicente Padilla, the hot hand who has not lost since signing with the Dodgers, will start opposite Cole Hamels, who was the winning pitcher in Game 1 but so far not the dominant postseason ace he was in 2008.
It mirrors the 2008 situation in which the Phillies came back for a Game 4 victory over the Dodgers and then Hamels won the clincher. Asked at Tuesday's workout day if that might help him in this situation, Hamels noted with guarded optimism that "it's a new year."
"You know, it can," Hamels said. "But at the same point last year, there was a little bit of different circumstances with the way I was pitching. You know, it was a little bit easier. This year has been a lot tougher. Things really haven't gone the way that I've wanted. Every time I've made a mistake, it's really hurt me, and I think that's something where I really have to minimize the mistakes.
"If I'm able to do that, because I have been in the same sort of situation, it'll just come back; that familiarity will just come back a little bit easier. I think that's what helps is the guys understand that. They know the struggles I've gone through, and they're trying to do everything they can to pick me up, and I'm trying to do the best I possibly can out on the mound. Baseball is a hard game, but you can't let it get to you, you have to keep on going out there and fighting until the end."
That is the Dodgers' mantra right now. They have lost the first two games in Philly by the most opposite of circumstances possible, both results that had people searching through record books. Game 3 was the 11-0 pounding behind Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard, and Game 4 was the comeback victory on Jimmy Rollins' walk-off double.
"The unique part about our situation, we win one game and we go home," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "That to me is a momentum switch, and the fact that Philadelphia has to come with us."
The Angels will have it harder than the Dodgers, because a successful comeback by the former would require winning Games 6 and 7 at Yankee Stadium, while the latter came in with home-field advantage and hopes to have Games 6 and 7 at Dodger Stadium.
The Angels took nearly the same kind of Game 4 beating that the Dodgers took in Game 3. CC Sabathia dominated them the way Lee had dominated the Dodgers in that blowout, and Alex Rodriguez continued to torch postseason pitching by homering in his third consecutive game and also scoring on a pair of manufactured runs.
Now comes a workout day today in the ALCS, followed by the possible clincher at 7:57 p.m. ET on Thursday (FOX). John Lackey, who was outdueled by Sabathia (and given little defensive support) in Game 1, will try to be the stopper as the Angels starter. Taking the mound for the Yankees will be A.J. Burnett, who allowed two runs over 6 1/3 innings of a no-decision in New York's Game 2 victory.
"We got beat pretty badly tonight. It was one loss. That's it," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "You come out there and gain some momentum. I don't think we've had a lead early in the ballgame yet this series. If we can start to play that type of game, this can change in a hurry.
PERFECTLY TIMED STREAK
|Series||After Gm 4||Gm 5||Gm 6||Gm 7|
|'07 ALCS||CLE, 3-1||BOS, 7-1||BOS, 12-2||BOS, 11-2|
|'04 ALCS||NYY, 3-1||BOS, 5-4||BOS, 4-2||BOS, 10-3|
|'03 NLCS||CHC, 3-1||FLA, 4-0||FLA, 8-3||FLA, 9-6|
|'96 NLCS||STL, 3-1||ATL, 14-0||ATL, 3-1||ATL, 15-0|
|'86 ALCS||CAL, 3-1||BOS, 7-6||BOS, 10-4||BOS, 8-1|
|'85 ALCS||TOR, 3-1||KC, 2-0||KC, 5-3||KC, 6-2|
"Our guys are confident. There is nobody in that clubhouse that's down. We know what's in front of us. We know where we have to get to, and there's a terrific challenge for us. And our guys are, you know, they're going to be ready to go mentally for sure. I don't think there is anything about a short series when you're definitely out of it until you lose four games. Our guys know that. We'll have a good workout. We'll come out here and hopefully play better and get some early runs."
Will any series go the distance in this postseason? Three of the four Division Series resulted in 3-0 sweeps, and the one that did not was won in four by the Phillies over the Rockies. These two LCS could each go five unless the Los Angeles clubs find a spark. Should the Phillies open at Yankee Stadium in one week, then you would be looking at a series that, on the face of it, has the hallmarks of a seven-game classic.
The question is, can either Los Angeles club prevent that East Coast showdown?
Who knows, maybe there is another 2003 NLCS Game 6 out there just waiting to happen to someone. To come back from 3-1, you need a little help. The Cubs sure provided it to the Marlins on that fateful and fabled night at Wrigley Field, where fan Steve Bartman reached for a foul ball, but truthfully, the Cubs and ace Mark Prior just imploded at the wrong time.
And to come back from 3-1, you had better have someone like Josh Beckett, who, along with Mike Lowell, experienced that satisfaction on that 2003 Marlins club and on that 2007 Red Sox club. Beckett pitched on two days' rest in relief in Game 7 of 2003.
"It's not that miraculous," he said after the '03 pennant clincher.
That is the best hope the Los Angeles baseball market could possibly want right now, because another Fall Classic arrives in only one week, and right now, it has Phillies and Yankees written all over it. The defending champs against the 26-time champs.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.