What’s your greatest memory from a series your team lost?
A friend reminded me that today is the 15th anniversary of Derek Jeter becoming “Mr. November.” That was in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series -- which started on October 31 but ended after midnight, on November 1 -- when Jeter hit his famous walkoff home run in the 10th inning.
Because I’m a jerk sometimes I remind him that the Yankees actually lost that series. I likewise remind Red Sox fans who talk about Carlton Fisk’s homer in the 1975 Series that Boston lost that series. Of course my friend and those Sox fans know this, but there is a tendency among Yankees and Sox fans to talk-up those events in ways that almost makes it seem like they’ve momentarily forgotten or that they want you to, so it’s fun to mess with them when they do.
In all sincerity, though, those were great moments. A lot of fans have “greatest moments in a losing cause” memories, actually. In some ways the defeat which follows makes those memories resonate even more because, at the time, you had to try to reconcile those disparate feelings. You had to find a way to be happy that a moment happened and to not let the ultimate loss sully it too terribly much. If you could.
For me, it’s probably Andruw Jones’ two homers in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series. It was the national coming out party of a superstar and a ton of fun to boot. Unfortunately for Braves fans 1996 was more properly the coming out party of the Yankees Dynasty. A Mark Wohlers slider and a Jim Leyritz homer was not far in the future, and those made most people forget about what Jones did in Game 1. But I remember it fondly. A lot of Braves fans do.
Older Cardinals fans have Bob Gibson’s 17-strikeout performance in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series to chew on. It was the most dominant World Series start ever. It was also a reminder that one pitcher cannot win you a World Series, as the Tigers won it in seven.
There are a lot of others. Barry Bonds’ homers and overall dominance in 2002. Josh Hamilton’s home run -- which he said God told him he’d hit -- in Game 6 of 2011. Curt Schilling’s shutout in the 1993 Series. I’m sure there are a ton I’m forgetting.
Which now makes me think of tonight’s Game 6 and, if necessary, tomorrow’s Game 7. It makes me wonder what the most dramatic/traumatic ending of this Series would be for each team and its fans. They probably almost have to include some signature-moment-in-a-losing cause to truly sting. Off the top of my head, I got this:
Worst case for Chicago: A Carlton Fisk-style homer tonight -- can’t be a walkoff because they’re on the road, but close enough -- most likely by Kyle Schwarber. Joe Buck gets such a case of the vapors over it all that Smoltz has to call the bottom of the ninth and no one remembers to say “And we’ll see you . . . Tomorrow night!” In Game 7, Corey Kluber is dominant, the Cubs get three-hit and score no runs. Alternatively, there’s a second Bartman moment involving a Cubs fan in the Indians stands and/or a goat runs out on the field, injuring Kyle Hendricks in the first inning, leading to a bullpen game the Cubs lose badly.
Worst case for Cleveland: A loss tonight, obviously, followed by the Indians building a large lead in the late innings tomorrow, centered on Francisco Lindor doing something amazing like hitting for the cycle or something. The crowd is ecstatic and, out of an abundance of caution, Terry Francona calls on Andrew Miller to close it out. The Cubs mount a John Elway-style rally against Miller, knocking both him and the overall “Indians Bullpen” narrative out of the series. An Earnest Byner-style error by the Indians allows the Cubs to score the go-ahead run.
Oh well, enjoy Game 6, everyone. And Game 7 if we need it. And remember: baseball moments are often complicated.