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World Series: History of 3-1 comebacks as Diamondbacks try to add name to short list vs. Rangers

Following a blowout loss in Tuesday’s Game 4, the Arizona Diamondbacks are now assured only one more game as part of their World Series matchup against the Texas Rangers. The D-backs trail by a 3-1 margin in the best-of-seven series with the two teams set to reconvene at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona on Wednesday night for Game 5. If the Rangers win, they’ll be crowned this year’s champions; if the Diamondbacks win, the series shifts back to Arlington.

This is a self-evident declaration, but the odds are very much in favor of the Rangers winning their first World Series title in franchise history. According to the website WhoWins.com, MLB teams with a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series have eventually won that series on about 85% of occasions. If you’re a D-backs fan, you’re probably clinging to the idea that there’s still a chance that Arizona can pull out this series. Indeed, there is, it’s just not a great one.

Throughout Major League Baseball’s history, just six teams who trailed by a 3-1 margin in the World Series went on to hoist the trophy. There have also been three close calls, where the trailing team forced and then lost in a decisive Game 7. Below, CBS Sports has offered quick recaps of all nine of those series. After all, who knows, maybe these Diamondbacks will find a way to enter a 10th such series into the history books over the next few days.

Close calls

1. 1912: Boston Red Sox over New York Giants
This World Series didn’t go seven — it went eight games, on account of Game 2 being declared a tie because of darkness. The Giants trailed by a 3-1 margin through the first five games of the set, but rallied to win Games 6 and 7 by a combined 16-6 margin. The Giants established an early 1-0 lead in Game 8, and later took a 2-1 edge in the 10th inning. Alas, the Red Sox scored a pair of runs during their half of the frame. The series ended when Larry Gardner hit a walk-off sacrifice fly against the legendary Christy Mathewson. 

2. 1967: St. Louis Cardinals over Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox found themselves on the other end of the equation more than five decades later. They secured a Game 5 victory thanks to a complete game by Jim Lonborg, and a Game 6 win thanks to a late four-run outburst. Boston’s comeback efforts then hit a brick wall in the personage of Bob Gibson. Gibson’s Game 7 performance saw him strike out 10 and surrender just two runs on three hits and three walks over the course of a complete game victory.

3. 1972: Oakland Athletics over Cincinnati Reds
Our final close call saw the Athletics hold on to win consecutive seven-game series en route to the championship. Rollie Fingers let a late lead slip away in Game 5, and the Reds put up enough offense versus Vida Blue and the A’s bullpen in Game 6 to force a winner-take-all contest. The A’s prevailed in a 3-2 nail-biter, with Gene Tenace and Sal Bando providing the key hits.

Now, onto the occasions where the 3-1 comeback actually happened.

Successful comebacks

1. 1925: Pittsburgh Pirates over Washington Senators
These Pirates became the first MLB team to ever pull off a 3-1 comeback. Game 7 was played in miserable conditions at Forbes Field, causing Senators ace Walter Johnson to have a forgettable game. He surrendered nine runs (five earned) on 15 hits over nine innings. Conversely, the Pirates yanked starter Vic Aldridge after five of the first six batters he faced to reach base. 

2. 1958: New York Yankees over Milwaukee Braves
This was a rematch of the previous year’s World Series that saw the Braves prevail. The Yankees were able to get the sweetest of revenge this go around, winning the final two contests in Milwaukee. Bob Turley won the World Series MVP trophy after throwing four times in seven games: twice as a starter, twice in relief. That includes appearances in both Games 6 and 7 when, on zero days’ rest, he chucked 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball in relief of Don Larsen. 

3. 1968: Detroit Tigers over St. Louis Cardinals
The aforementioned Gibson matched up twice in this series with Denny McLain, who had won 31 games during the regular season. Gibson won both of those encounters. McLain then pitched the Tigers to a blowout victory in Game 6, leaving Game 7 — and another meeting with Gibson — to Mickey Lolich. Lolich proved up for the task, holding the Cardinals to one run in a complete game effort. Meanwhile, Detroit’s lineup scored four times against Gibson, with Jim Northrup delivering a two-run triple as the key hit in a three-run seventh inning.

4. 1979: Pittsburgh Pirates over Baltimore Orioles
The Pirates looked to be overmatched midway through this series, losing Games 3 and 4 by a combined 17-10 margin. Yet Pittsburgh proceeded to win three consecutive contests, including Games 6 and 7 on the road. The “We Are Family” Pirates turned the tables, taking those games by a 15-2 margin.

5. 1985: Kansas City Royals over St. Louis Cardinals
In order for the Royals to win the 1985 World Series, they had to author not one, but two 3-1 comebacks. They trailed 3-1 in the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays before storming back. Evidently, they enjoyed that experience so much they wanted to relive it against the Cardinals. This series is perhaps best remembered for Don Denkinger’s controversial (and incorrect) safe call in the ninth inning of Game 6 that spared the Royals an out. Clearly they took full advantage. 

6. 2016: Chicago Cubs over Cleveland
The most recent 3-1 comeback in World Series history was a bittersweet one since it involved two franchises with longstanding championship droughts. The Cubs won Games 6 and 7 on the road. The latter saw Cleveland tie the game in the bottom of the eighth off Aroldis Chapman. The two sides would deal with a rain delay before the Cubs eventually won in extra innings, securing their first World Series championship since 1908.

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