CHICAGO – Funny how anniversaries can tend to match up.
Nope, we’re not talking about “Back to the Future II” on this October 21, 2015. In that film today is the day which Marty McFly (Played by Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Played by Christopher Lloyd) travel from 1985 to discover, off all things, that the Cubs are the World Series champions of that year.
Nope. October 20th is the date that mattered on Tuesday.
That marked the 11th anniversary of the completion of the greatest comeback in Major League Baseball history. The Boston Red Sox knocked off the Yankees 10-3 in the Bronx for a fourth-straight win in their American League Championship Series.
A quartet of victories in a row wasn’t the shock. It was the fact the Red Sox did so after losing the first three of the seven-game series that made it historic.
That had never happened before and when Boston pulled it off, they had their greatest win in route to their first World Series title in 86 years.
Maybe that’s the only bit of good historical karma that Cubs fans felt 11 years to the day on Tuesday. Not even an unseasonably warm night could get the chill off the Cubs’ bats as they fell to the Mets 5-2 in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs, a team that hasn’t won a pennant in 70 years and a World Series in 107, now stares down the 3-0 deficit the Red Sox conquered on the same date over a decade ago.
Theo Epstein, now the Cubs president, knows all about it. He was the general manager who built the team that made the unprecedented comeback-and he didn’t neglect to mention that to his current club.
“It’s been done before, we can do it,” said Epstein in the Cubs’ locker room after the Game 3 loss. “Nine or more times this year we’ve won four games in a row. So we’ll just do it a tenth time.”
While confident the Cubs are still facing a daunting challenge that few have ever conquered in professional sports in general. In baseball there is the Red Sox’ incredible comeback in 2004 but they are the only one to pull it off. In fact they are the only team to ever force a seventh contest after losing Games 1 through 3.
Three times the Cubs have faced this deficit in their history-the 1910, 1932 and 1938 World Series. Against the Philadelphia A’s in 1910 they won a Game 4 at the West Side Grounds but were eliminated in Game 5.
Against the powerhouse Yankees in 1932 and 1938 the Cubs were promptly swept and neither were pretty. In ’32 the Cubs lost 13-6 in Game 4 and in ’38 they were eliminated with an 8-3 defeat at Yankee Stadium.
In all major North American professional sports rallying from a 3-0 deficit is rare. In the NBA it has never happened with 118 teams losing the first three games and not one has comeback to win-including the Houston Rocket and Atlanta Hawks in their respective conference finals this past spring.
Three teams-the 1951 Knicks, 1994 Nuggets and 2003 Trail Blazers-won three-straight to force a Game 7 but couldn’t finish the deal.
Big series rallies are a little more common in the NHL. Just a little.
Four times have teams trailed 3-0 and have rallied back for the series win. Two of them have connections to the Blackhawks. In 2010 the Flyers roared back after losing the first three games to beat the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They would make it all the way to the finals before the Blackhawks knocked them off for their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
Four years later the Kings rallied from the same deficit to beat the Sharks in a first round series. They would ride that all the way to a Stanley Cup, beating the Blackhawks in a seven-game Western Conference Finals series.
The 1940 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders also won series after being down 3-0.
Joe Maddon might not have known about those other sports, but he certainly remembered what the Red Sox had done a little over a decade earlier.
“The fact we still have an opportunity to come back and do this, of course you think about those things, you think about the parallels, think about the fact that happened against a New York team,” said Maddon when asked after Game 3 about the 2004 Red Sox showing a 3-0 comeback can happen. “We think about all that stuff, but it’s up to us to go out and play and execute.”
Just as a certain team did 11 years before to snap a history of losing en route to ending a decades long World Series title drought.
Never say never, right?