In 2004, the Yankees led the Red Sox 3-0 in the ALCS, before giving up a ninth-inning lead, the next four games, and the series. I’ll never forget the stories that came out in the days and weeks following, all headlined with some variant of “Is This is Worst Collapse Ever?”
Well, karma being karma, what went around has come back around, and the Red Sox are in freefall. They’re now tied with the Rays for the AL Wild Card, only a few weeks after being comfortable in first place, where they were for most of the season. And now, out come the Collapse stories. According to Nate Silver at the New York Times, this one might be the worst collapse ever:
Teams have finished their years with a 5-20 record before. They’ve ended it as badly as 1-24, in fact, as the infamous 1899 Cleveland Spiders did. (The Spiders entered their final 25 games with a 19-110 record, so the performance was pretty much in character.) But these were not teams that were winning 60 percent of their games before that, as the Red Sox had been.
Instead, the team with the worst finish to the season among those that had played .600 baseball beforehand was the 1969 Chicago Cubs. They started their year 84-53 but finished 8-17, turning a five-game lead over the New York Mets into an eight-game deficit. (I limit the analysis to cases where teams played at least 140 games during the regular season.)
So even if the Red Sox win their final two games, they will still match the 1969 Cubs for late-season futility — the team that, prior to the Bartman Ball, had been most closely associated with the franchise’s alleged curse.
The best-case scenario is that the Sox collapse is the second-worst among good teams in the modern era, behind only the 1969 Cubs. Worst-case, it’s the worst we’ve seen.
But it’s all moot if the Sox make the playoffs. We’ve seen time and time again that being the Wild Card isn’t much of a disadvantage, that all slates are cleaned when the playoffs start. And the Sox, really, have to start hitting sometime. This is, after all, the same team that started this season 2-10 before going on a prolonged tear that only ended a few weeks ago. When the team gets it back together, and they will, they’re going to be scary.
As a Yankee fan, I’m praying that happens about a day and a half after the playoffs start, when the Sox are all at home playing Wiffle Ball.