Gerardo Parra, Chris Young and Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate after their 10-6 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in Game Four of the National League Divison Series at Chase Field on October 5, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.
When the Diamondbacks went down two games to none in their Division Series against the Brewers, I looked into the question of how many teams had come back from such a deficit in the previous 16 years of these series in the wild card era. The answer is just four -- not many, of the 64 series in those 16 seasons.
Even having a series go the full five-game length since this format was created has been a rare event -- just 14 of those 64 series from 1995-2010 did so, and just one between 2006 and 2010.
So we are in extremely rare territory this season. Three of the four series will have a deciding fifth game; that has happened just once before (in 2001). So what are the odds that the Diamondbacks will become the fifth team to complete the comeback from a 2-0 deficit?
Pretty good, as it turns out. Of the 10 other series (besides the four comebacks noted above), just one of them went to a fifth game with the trailing team having a chance to win the series. That was last year's series between the Rangers and Rays, the only series in the five years before this season to go the distance. Tampa Bay had lost the first two games, then won two in a row before losing Game 5. It was a unique series -- the road team won all five games. In the other nine series that got to a fifth game, the teams alternated wins in Game 1 and Game 2.
And in the four series where the trailing team won, two of them have the identical pattern to this year's match between Arizona and Milwaukee: the team with home field advantage won the first two at home, then lost a pair on the road, and came back sure that they'd again win a home game -- but both lost. On both occasions, the winning team was the Red Sox -- in 1999 against the Indians and in 2003 against the Athletics. In the case of the 2003 A's, the Brewers might want to take heed; those A's, like Milwaukee this season, had the best home record in baseball at 57-24, but couldn't win a home game when they needed it most.
It's a difficult road to travel, the one the Diamondbacks have taken. But the previous history of the division series tells us that once a team has traveled that road -- forced a fifth game after losing the first two -- they're more likely to win the third straight game and the series than not. Five teams have gotten as far as Arizona has; four have completed the journey.
The Diamondbacks and Brewers both have their top pitchers going in Game 5. We'll find out soon whether Arizona can be the first team in eight years to crush the dreams of an opponent that needed just one win in three to advance.