Boston May Learn Losing Close Ones Is Hard To Overcome In October

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ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 26: Brandon Workman #67 of the Boston Red Sox is removed from the game in the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Three of the 2013 World Series at Busch Stadium on October 26, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

By Sam McPherson

Everyone knows how “easy” it was for the Boston Red Sox to win both their most-recent World Series titles with four-game sweeps.

In winning those eight straight World Series games, the Fenway Park residents out-scored the St. Louis Cardinals, 24-12, in the 2004 Series, and they bombed the Colorado Rockies by a combined 29-10 score in the 2007 Series.

Easy enough.

In the 2004 match-up, the Sox won by two runs, four runs, three runs and three runs, respectively; and in the 2007 contest, Boston won Game One by 12 runs and Game Three by five runs.

(What do most baseball fans probably not remember? Two one-run victories by the Red Sox over the Rockies all but buried Colorado in the Series: Game Two’s 2-1 squeaker at Fenway and the Game Four clincher, 4-3, at Coors Field in Denver.)

Nothing breaks a team’s postseason heart and spirit like close losses, where every player involved wonders exact what little thing they could have done slightly different to make up the small difference between victory and defeat.

So after Game Three’s loss Saturday night in St, Louis, it will be interesting to see how these 2013 Boston Red Sox respond to such harrowing disappointment: it’s easier to shake off a one-run loss in the regular season, because there are a lot of tomorrows in a 162-game schedule.

October baseball is a little different, of course. Tomorrow may never come again.

(And never mind, for now, the controversy behind the winning run in this Game Three and how it was scored: a one-run loss is a one-run loss. No matter how you slice it: it still stings a lot.)

Postseason teams usually have good one-run game win-loss records in the regular season, but this Boston team is an interesting exception. The Red Sox were only 21-21 this year in one-run games, and in playoff action, Boston is 3-3 in these close games now. They managed to make it to the World Series despite a 2-3 record through the first two rounds in one-run games, which is pretty impressive.

As for the St. Louis Cardinals, they posted a 20-16 mark this year during the regular season in one-run games, and in the postseason, well… St. Louis is now 4-0 in one-run games.

It’s a small sample, but there’s something telling here about which team might be performing better in these tight situations, and it’s not the mighty Red Sox.

To wit, in the Cardinals’ two most-recent World Series championships — the five-game victory against the Detroit Tigers in 2006 and the seven-game classic against the Texas Rangers in 2011— St. Louis registered a 3-1 mark in one-run games, including a 2-1 effort in the ever-so-close Series against the Rangers. And how can anyone forget Game Six of the 2011 Series?

In essence, you’re not going to find a lot of championship teams that lose the close ones while winning the overall Series.

There is a classic example everyone loves to cite: the 1960 World Series, in which the New York Yankees outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates by a whopping 55-27 tally, yet lost the championship because they couldn’t win the close games. Those Yankees — featuring Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, et al — lost two one-run games in that Series, and it cost them the title and ended famed Manager Casey Stengel’s career in pinstripes.

More recently, the 1991 Atlanta Braves outscored the Minnesota Twins, 29-24, in seven games, but because they lost Games Two, Six and Game Seven on the road, each by one run, those Braves went home without a championship. Atlanta didn’t learn anything, either, from that debacle, as when the 1992 Series came around against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Braves lost four games by one run apiece as they lost the title in a six-game Series where they outscored the opponent again, this time by a tally of 20-17.

Think about that insanity for a moment: Atlanta lost seven games in a two-year Series stretch by one run each time. Maybe that’s just bad luck or maybe it was inexperience, for when the Braves returned to the World Series in 1995, they won three one-run games against the Cleveland Indians on their way to a six-game Series victory in which they outscored the Tribe only 23-19 overall.

Lesson learned, for sure: what a difference the one-run victories make when deciding a championship.

And we do know this right now: the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals are playing well in the very close games right now, and the 2013 Boston Red Sox are just breaking even in the close ones.

That small margin could mean a World Series title for one team: just ask the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s.

Of course, these Red Sox are nothing if not resilient. We saw that in Game Two of the American League Championship Series against Detroit this year, and we even saw it in Game Three on Saturday when Boston twice rallied from two-run deficits to tie a game that maybe they had no business winning.

It just will be interesting to see how the Sox respond in Game Four Sunday, after one of the franchise’s most heartbreaking postseason losses in recent memory. And for a team that historically has a lot of heartbreaking losses on its résumé — Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner and Aaron Boone, anyone? — the hearts in New England haven’t dealt with this kind of thing in awhile.

Read more MLB Playoff news here.

Sam McPherson is a freelance journalist and a baseball fanatic. In addition to sports writing, Sam is also a competitive triathlete. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.

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