A child born during the 2004 ALCS in which the Red Sox became the first baseball team to overcome a three games to none deficit to win a best-of-seven series can cast his or her first votes in an election next month.
So that’s the good news for the Yankees — they don’t have to look far, either on the calendar or within their franchise’s own history, for tangential evidence it is possible to mount a miracle comeback.
The bad news is nothing else about these Yankees indicates they can provide some fraternal redemption for those Yankees by giving them some room in the history books with a stunning comeback against the Astros over the next 96 hours.
The Yankees fell into a three games to none hole in the ALCS Saturday night, when they again failed to solve Cristian Javier and a cadre of relievers in a 5-0 loss.
“Obviously this isn’t ideal,” Anthony Rizzo said. “But we’ve just got to win tomorrow. It sucks tonight. It’s gonna suck and it’s gonna sting. Tomorrow when we wake up, we’ve just got to figure out a way to win.”
Similar words, perhaps minus the sucks, were probably uttered by players on the 39 previous teams to trail three games to none in a best-of-seven series. But there’s nothing apparent in their makeup or recent performance to indicate the Yankees can begin to make the Astros sweat by extending the series to Monday, never mind by actually winning the next four games against a team that hasn’t lost four straight since April.
Only four teams have fallen behind three games to none and extended the series to at least six games. The 1998 Braves, who fell to the Padres in the six games in the NLCS, and 2020 Astros, who lost to the Rays in seven games in the ALCS, were each three years removed from winning the World Series and still possessed the championship pedigree from those runs. The 1999 Mets, who lost to the Braves in six games in the NLCS, displayed a penchant for the dramatic comeback by overcoming a two-game deficit over the final three games of the regular season before winning a one-game playoff to earn the wild card berth.
And the 2004 Red Sox were, of course, a rambunctious bunch that welcomed the historical weight they bore in pursuit of the Yankees. These Yankees, somehow growing more corporate by the year, don’t have a Kevin Millar walking around speaking for his numerous kindred souls by declaring “don’t let us win tonight” before Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. The closest player the Yankees have to a Millar is their newest member, Harrison Bader, who spoke while wearing a garish rainbow-colored fur coat Saturday night and will probably have that free spirit wrung out of him soon enough.
The Red Sox of 18 years ago, even after a 19-8 loss to the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS, could take solace in going 23-25 while being outscored by a single run — 261-260 — in 48 games against the Yankees dating back to the start of the 2003 season.
The Yankees? They’re two big comebacks in June away from being 0-fer the season against the Astros, who have outscored them 39-26 in 10 games. Ten of those runs were scored in the Yankees’ final at-bats during the games of June 23, June 26 and the second game of a doubleheader July 21.
The Yankees scored four ninth-inning runs to earn a 7-6 win on June 23, walked off with a 6-3, 10-inning victory via Aaron Judge’s three-run homer three days later and scored three times in the ninth on July 21 — again via a Judge three-run homer — in a 7-5 loss. In between the walk-off wins, the Yankees went 15 innings without a hit and were no-hit June 25 by Javier and two relievers.
“I just feel like it’s going to be a tight ballgame against the Astros no matter what,” said Gerrit Cole, who took the loss Saturday after allowing all five runs (three earned) over five-plus innings. “Certainly had my fair share of tight ballgames against them this year. I pitched against them twice. We got no-hit once and shutout the next time.”
In search of a spark, whomever makes out the Yankees lineup is shuffling the deck like it’s late March in Tampa instead of the ALCS in late October. The only player to hit in the same spot in each of the first three games is surefire AL MVP Judge, who has batted second. Three different players have batted in the first, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth spots.
None of it has worked. The Yankees’ mixing and matching has yielded a .128 average (12-for-94) with nine walks and 41 strikeouts. On Saturday, Javier and five relievers came within one out of a combined one-hitter before harmless back-to-back singles by Matt Carpenter and Bader.
Contrast that to 18 years ago, when Red Sox manager Terry Francona barely tinkered with the lineup over the first four games of the ALCS, a span in which he started the same nine players and made just three switches. Seventh-place hitter Jason Varitek and ninth-place hitter Bill Mueller traded spots with fifth-place hitter Millar and eighth-place hitter Orlando Cabrera for Game 3 before Francona swapped second-place hitter Mark Bellhorn and ninth-place hitter Cabrera for Game 4.
The Red Sox rewarded Francona’s patience by scoring 25 runs over the final four games of the ALCS before scoring 24 more runs and never trailing the Cardinals in a four-game sweep of the World Series.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Yankees have no choice but to believe they can author a similar turnaround.
“Listen, at times, things might feel like a mountain,” Bader said. “But classically speaking — giving a cliche, if you will — you know you can’t get to the top without starting at the bottom.”
On Saturday night, it sure looked like they were going to stay there.
Jerry Beach, Contributor