The 1996 Yankees, led by Joe Girardi and John Wetteland, are the last team to come back from an 0-2 deficit to win the World Series. (John Iacono/SI)
With just about every bounce going their way, the Giants are already halfway to winning the 2012 World Series by taking the first two games from theTigers in San Francisco. As the series heads to Detroit, the AL champions face long odds of coming back. Of the 47 teams to fall into a 2-games-to-0 hole in a best-of-seven World Series (four matchups have been best-of-nine), just 10 have come back to win it all, a rate of 21 percent. No team has come back from down 2-0 since the 1996 Yankees rallied against the Braves.
Those Yankees took the hardest route possible, losing the first two games at home before coming back on the road, something only two other teams (out of 13 that fell into that hole) have ever done. Seven of the 34 teams to go down 2-0 on the road came back to win, their chances bolstered by playing the next three at home, but even that's still just 21 percent of the time. What follows is a quick romp through history to run down those series, which featured some of the most famous moments in Fall Classic history, including some great personal comebacks, big breaks and inspired incidents of managerial improvisation.
1955: Dodgers over Yankees
Facing off for the fifth time in nine seasons and sixth time since 1941, the Dodgers — who had yet to win a single championship — appeared bound for yet another defeat when they lost the first two games in the Bronx despite Jackie Robinson's signature eighth-inning steal of home in Game 1. When the series switched to their Ebbets Field bandbox, Brooklyn powered its way back. On his 23rd birthday, Johnny Podres went the distance in Game 3, backed by a Roy Campanella homer. Game 4 featured homers by Campanella, Gil Hodges and Duke Snider, helping to turn an early 3-1 deficit into an 8-5 win. Two more homers by Snider and one by Sandy Amoros carried the day in Game 5.
Back in the Bronx, the Yankees evened the series, scoring five first-inning runs off Dodger starter Karl Spooner, who retired only one hitter while Whitey Ford held Brooklyn to four hits and one run. That set up a Game 7 featuring Podres against 35-year-old Tommy Byrne, who had beaten the Dodgers in Game 2. Clinging to a 2-0 lead after six innings, Dodgers manager Walter Alston inserted Amoros as a defensive replacement in leftfield, and the move paid off. With men on first and second and nobody out, Yogi Berra hit a drive into the leftfield corner which the fleet-footed Amoros speared one-handed near the foul line. Podres surrendered eight hits but held New York scoreless, and "Next Year" finally arrived, giving Brooklyn its first and only championship.
1956: Yankees over Dodgers
When the Dodgers took the first two games of the following year's series at Ebbets Field, it looked as though the balance of power between the two rivals may have finally shifted. They chased Ford early in Game 1 and won a 13-8 slugfest in Game 2 that saw both their ace Don Newcombe and Yankees starter Don Larsen chased in the second innings. When the series shifted to the Bronx, however, New York took over. Backed by a solo homer from Billy Martin and a three-run shot from Enos Slaughter, Whitey Ford scattered eight hits and went the distance for a 5-3 win in Game 3. Hank Bauer and Mickey Mantle homered to back Tom Sturdivant's complete-game effort in Game 4, and in Game 5, Larsen hurled the first perfect game in World Series history.
The Dodgers didn't roll over. Back in Brooklyn, they forced a seventh game when Clem Labine, the team's relief ace, made a rare start and shut the Yankees out for 10 innings. Bob Turley did the same to the Dodgers for nine, but faltered in the 10th when Robinson singled home Jim Gilliam, just the fourth hit he surrendered all day. In the finale, the Yankees rocked Newcombe for five runs in three-plus innings, and won going away, 9-0.
1958: Yankees over Braves
By now the script seemed familiar: In a rematch with a team that had beaten them in a seven-game series the year before, the Yankees lost the first two games on the road — this time via complete-game victories by Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette; Milwaukee scored seven first-inning runs in Game 2, with Turley lasting just one-third of an inning. When the series switched to the Bronx, Larsen and Ryne Duren combined on a six-hit shutout in Game 3, but Spahn shut out the Yankees on two hits in Game 4, putting the Braves up 3-1.
Turley redeemed himself with a shutout of his own in Game 5, with the New York offense erupting for six sixth-inning runs against Burdette and reliever Juan Pizarro, with the latter letting in all three inherited runners via a Gil McDougald double and a Turley single. Ford was chased in the second inning of Game 6, but with 8 2/3 innings of strong relief work from Art Ditmar, Ryne Duren and Turley, the Yankees took a 2-2 game into the 10th inning, where McDougald homered off Spahn and the Yanks eked out a 4-3 win. Turley made yet another relief appearance in Game 7, relieving Larsen with one out and two on in the third inning and going the rest of the way; the Yankees scored four off Burdette in the eighth, three via Moose Skowron's home run, and won 6-3.
1965: Dodgers over Twins
The Twins took the first two at home, with Mudcat Grant and Jim Kaat besting Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax; the latter famously declined the opportunity to pitch Game 1 because it conflicted with Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday. The Dodgers swept the next three in Los Angeles, with Claude Osteen throwing a five-hit shutout in Game 3, Drysdale withstanding solo homers by Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva in Game 4, and Koufax tossing a four-hit shutout and striking out 10 in Game 5. The Twins held serve in Game 6, with Grant throwing a six-hitter and blasting a three-run homer to boot.
That set up a Game 7 between Koufax and Kaat, both on two days' rest. Dodger outfielder Lou Johnson, who had homered in Game 4, hit a solo shot to lead off the fourth, then Ron Fairly doubled and Wes Parker followed with an RBI single. That chased Kaat, and it was the only support Koufax would need; he blanked the Twins on three hits and again struck out 10 despite battling elbow soreness that steered him away from his famous curveball.
Fresh off their third straight pennant, and featuring a quartet of 20-game winners, the defending world champion Orioles hit three home runs and chased Pirates starter Dock Ellis in the third inning in Game 1, then racked up 11 runs in Game 2. With the series switching to Pittsburgh, the Pirates got on the board with a 5-1 win via Steve Blass' complete game and Bob Robertson's three-run homer. The Pirates evened the series despite Baltimore chasing starter Luke Walker with three runs in the first inning of Game 4; 21-year-old rookie Bruce Kison tossed 6 1/3 innings of one-hit shutout ball in relief, Al Oliver drove in two run, and Milt May broke a 3-3 tie in the seventh with an RBI single off Eddie Watt.
Pittsburgh's Nelson Briles spun a two-hit shutout in Game 5, but Baltimore overcame an early 2-0 deficit to win Game 6 in extra innings; Davey Johnson drove in the tying run in the seventh inning and Brooks Robinson plated Frank Robinson with a sacrifice fly in the 10th. In Game 7, pitting Blass against Mike Cuellar, Roberto Clemente hit a fourth-inning solo homer, his 12th hit of the series en route to the MVP award. A Willie Stargell single and a Jose Pagan double gave the Pirates their second run in the seventh inning, while Blass limited the Orioles to just one run after getting out of a jam in the bottom of the frame, and finished the job in the ninth by retiring Boog Powell, Frank Robinson and Merv Rettenmund in order.
1978 Yankees over Dodgers
Victimized by Reggie Jackson's three-homer finale in 1977, the Dodgers looked as though they might get the upper hand the following year, when they won the first two games in Los Angeles in emotional fashion. Team captain Davey Lopes homered twice in an 11-5 win in the opener, dedicating the win to coach Jim Gilliam, who had died of a brain hemorrhage just two days earlier. In Game 2, paced by a three-run homer from Ron Cey, the Dodgers clung to a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning. The Yankees put two men on base with one out when Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda summoned rookie fireballer Bob Welch to face Thurman Munson and Jackson, whom he struck out in dramatic fashion to save the game.
In the Bronx for Game 3, the Yankees took an early 2-1 lead, and while the Dodgers kept threatening, acrobatic third baseman Graig Nettles bailed out ace Ron Guidry with four incredible plays that helped to strand seven runners. The Yankees overcame an early 3-0 lead in Game 4 thanks in part to a controversial play in which Jackson took a potential double-play relay in the hip, with the ball caroming into rightfield as a run scored; Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda argued that he interfered, but to no avail. The Yankees tied the game in the eighth and won in the 10th on a Lou Piniella single. They routed the Dodgers 12-2 in Game 5 behind five RBIs from Munson, and clinched the series in Game 6 with timely hits from middle infielders Brian Doyle and Bucky Dent, who combined for 17 hits and nine RBIs in the series, with the latter winning MVP honors, and Jackso's revenge homer off of Welch.
1981 Dodgers over Yankees
In a record 11th meeting between the two teams, the Yankees stormed out to a 2-games-to-0 lead in the Bronx; they chased Jerry Reuss early in Game 1, and Tommy John and Goose Gossage combined for a shutout in Game 2. When the series shifted to Los Angeles, the Dodgers jumped out to a 3-0 first-inning lead against Dave Righetti in Game 3, and Lasorda stuck with 20-year-old rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela despite his allowing two runs apiece in the second and third inning. The Dodgers scored two runs in the sixth, and Valenzuela worked around nine hits and seven walks to throw a 141-pitch complete game.
Lasorda couldn't afford patience in Game 4; he pulled starter Bob Welch in the first inning. The Dodgers trailed 6-3 in the sixth when Jay Johnstone's two-run pinch homer and Russell's RBI single off Ron Davis tied the score; they scored two off George Frazier and Tommy John, pitching out of the bullpen in the seventh, and withstood a Jackson solo homer to win 8-7. Solo homers off Guidry by Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager and a complete game by Reuss carried the Dodgers to a 2-1 victory in Game 5, and aided by Yankee manager Bob Lemon's controversial decision to pinch-hit for John in a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning, they wrapped things up with a 9-2 win back in the Bronx.
The "Show-Me Series" featuring Missouri's two teams produced one of the most controversial moments in postseason history, but to get there, the Royals had to rally from a 3-games-to-1 deficit in the ALCS against Toronto. They lost the first two games in Kansas City, the second when the Cardinals rallied for four ninth-inning runs against tiring starter Charlie Liebrandt, with relief ace Dan Quisenberry looking on. Frank White's three RBIs and Bret Saberhagen's complete-game six-hitter gave the Royals their first win in Game 3 in St. Louis, but John Tudor's Game 4 shutout pushed the Cardinals within one win of a title.
They never got it. The Royals chased St. Louis starter Bob Forsch in the second inning of Game 5 and won 6-1 behind Danny Jackson's complete game. Kansas City was three outs from a loss in Game 6 when they rallied for two ninth-inning runs, aided by umpire Don Denkinger's infamous blown call at first base on pinch-hitter Jorge Orta's infield grounder. Tudor couldn't make it out of the third inning in Game 7, reliever Joaquin Andujar and manager Whitey Herzog were both ejected for arguing with Denkinger, now behind the plate, in the fifth, and the demoralized Cardinals were trounced 11-0.
Two teams that won incredibly tight League Championship Series — the Mets needing 28 innings to secure their final two victories over the Astros, the Red Sox rallying from a 3-games-to-1 deficit against the Angels — squared off in an even more memorable World Series. Boston took the opener in New York, 1-0, with Bruce Hurst and Calvin Schiraldi combining on a four-hitter; the lone run against Ron Darling came via a walk, a wild pitch and an error on second baseman Tim Tuefel. The Sox won Game 2 as both Dave Henderson and Dwight Evans homered off Dwight Gooden. The series moved to Boston, where Lenny Dykstra's leadoff homer — his first of four hits — keyed a four-run first inning against Oil Can Boyd in Game 3 en route to a 7-1 Mets win; he added another and Gary Carter hit two in the team's 6-2 win the next night.
Hurst scattered 10 hits over nine innings and the Red Sox touched up Gooden yet again in Game 5. Boston was one strike away from its first world championship since 1918 in Game 6 when Bob Stanley's wild pitch allowed the Mets to score the tying run; they won moments later when Mookie Wilson's groundball went through Bill Buckner's legs. After waiting out a day of rain, New York won Game 7 by overcoming an early 3-0 deficit; Ray Knight's seventh-inning homer off Calvin Schiraldi put the Mets up for good, with Darryl Strawberry's solo homer and reliever Jesse Orosco's RBI single providing needed insurance in their 8-5 win.
1996: Yankees over Braves
The defending world champion Braves looked well on their way to a repeat when they trounced the Yankees 12-1 and 4-0 in the Bronx behind John Smoltz and Greg Maddux; 19-year-old Andruw Jones hit two homers in the first game. The Yankees made it a series when Bernie Williams' two-run eighth-inning homer broke open Game 3 en route to a 5-2 New York win in Atlanta. The Braves jumped out to a 6-0 lead in Game 4, chasing New York starter Kenny Rogers in the third inning, and held a 6-3 lead in the eighth when Jim Leyritz's pinch-three-run-homer off Mark Wohlers knotted the score. The Yankees added two in the 10th, the first via pinch-hitter Wade Boggs' bases-loaded walk, to even the series.
New York gained the upper hand when Andy Pettitte outdueled Smoltz for a 1-0 win in Game 5; an error by Marquis Grissom and a Cecil Fielder double plated the game's only run. Back in the Bronx for Game 6, a Joe Girardi RBI triple highlighted a three-run third inning against Maddux in Game 6 that would be all the runs New York needed. Series MVP John Wetteland — who saved all four New York wins — withstook a ninth-inning rally that pushed the tying run to second base before he shut the door for a 3-2 win and the Yankees' first title since 1978.