The 2004 Boston Red Sox are the only team in Major League history to come back from a three-to-zero deficit to win a best-of-seven postseason series.
This is the task that faces the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday and moving forward.
Major League uniforms have been adorned with a patch all season celebrating the 150th season of MLB, and the Cardinals must become the second team in a century and a half to overcome their current odds if they are to advance past the Washington Nationals and into the World Series.
The path to history is itself now historic.
If Monday’s performance is any indication of what awaits, that path may be impassable.
In losing 8-1 to the Nationals in Game 3, the Cardinals began to show cracks in a foundation that was built to try to withstand the weight of a sagging offense. The official scorer was all that stood between Marcell Ozuna and at least one error, and he also made a baserunning mistake to erase his second inning double.
An errant delivery from Jack Flaherty was ruled a wild pitch but could have been a passed ball on Yadier Molina; either case is outside the norm. Tyler Webb and John Brebbia, effective if not flashy for most of the season, dribbled kerosene on Washington’s offensive flame and set the game in stone, out of reach.
“It’s all about tomorrow,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “I can tell you this, and it’s appropriate for the area we’re at. There is no concession speech being written. This is a team that can absolutely win four games in a row, and clearly we have to start tomorrow, and we’ve got to get after it, which we will, and we have, but anybody that’s seen this team, we’re obviously clearly in a tough spot.
“There is precedent for it, but this team has created its own precedent this year a lot in a lot of things we’ve done throughout the course of this year. So take care of business tomorrow, and then who knows, right? This group will bite, scratch, and claw. We’re going to figure out a way to win tomorrow.”
Those 2004 Red Sox are notable for both their comeback and their curse breaking, but they’re infamous in St. Louis. They swept the Cardinals in the World Series that year, but “swept” may not capture the full scope of the domination.
St. Louis never held a lead in four games, and the Redbirds watched helplessly as the Red Sox romped and Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore ran to the field to film a scene from the movie Fever Pitch. It was a Hollywood fairytale for everyone but the Cardinals, who looked for all the world as though they scarcely belonged to be there.
That story seems now to be echoing through the storied streets of the nation’s capital.
“We’ve got to get the lead,” Shildt said. “We’ve got to get a lead at some point in this series. Hard to win a game if you can’t get a lead. We’ve got to figure out a way to create some offense early in the game and be able to hold it there.”
Flaherty, who allowed four earned runs in September and only three in August, gave up four in the third inning on Monday night.
For the first time in perhaps three months, he was not the biggest story in a game that he started. He was rendered a footnote by a Washington offense which tore through the night and delivered 11 hits, five for extra bases.
It was the third straight game in which the Nationals received at least one run batted in from the eighth hitter in their order and the second straight in which that hitter delivered a homer, thanks to Victor Robles in the sixth inning.
The first three hitters in the St. Louis lineup, Dexter Fowler, Kolten Wong, and Paul Goldschmidt, combined to go 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts.
Goldschmidt had four of the punchouts, known in baseball parlance as a Golden Sombrero. As he walked off after the fourth, the Nationals’ stadium organist played the “Mexican Hat Dance.”
Washington reliever Fernando Rodney, once seen throwing bunted balls all over Busch in the 2006 World Series, took a leisurely ride to the mound on the bullpen cart and delivered his classic bow-and-arrow celebration as he breezed through a 1-2-3 eighth against the Cardinals’ 2-3-4 hitters.
“Just keep grinding,” second baseman Kolten Wong said. “It’s baseball. Obviously these guys are hot right now. They’re playing really well. We know that. We’ve just gotta figure out a way, whatever that is.”
“We have to win,” said José Martínez, who delivered two hits in his first start of the postseason. “There’s nothing else we can do but go out there and win. Nothing else right now. There’s nothing else. We gotta go out there and win.”
The Nationals were wearing brightly colored sunglasses in their dugout. A stuffed baby shark hung off the rail, in honor of outfielder and good time guru Gerardo Parra. Long, warm hugs were delivered to Stephen Strasburg after he left the game, and even the famously intense Max Scherzer, whose multi-colored eyes loom over right field, got in on the cuddle puddle.
Fans headed out of the ballpark mused over which American League foe they’d rather face as Washington players cracked jokes from the postgame podium and their Cardinals counterparts were sullen in their determination.
It felt like a party already getting started, and just as in 2004, the Cardinals didn’t have an invitation.
“We don’t have to think of the situation,” Martínez said. “We just have to go out there and try to do our job. The Nats and everybody think of course that we’ve got no chance, but it’s baseball. Anything can happen.”