Phils' task is tall, but not unprecedented

Phils' task is tall, but not unprecedented

PHILADELPHIA -- Needing only five words to do so, Phillies reliever Scott Eyre might have summed it up best.

"This time," he said, "we can't split."

He was alluding to the Phillies' most recent trip to Yankee Stadium, one in which they were pleased to leave with one win in two games. This time, they have to take both.

It's the precarious position assumed by the club, whose Game 5 victory ensured that at least one more baseball game would be played in 2009. Now they go back to New York. And since Philadelphia is already known for its history, maybe it's fitting that this Phillies team is trying to add to the city's lore.

In New York, all the talk is about how the Yankees have never squandered a 3-1 World Series advantage. But for you Philadelphians looking for some way to see the glass half full, be mindful that another six teams have.

This Phillies club could take a look at what the Keystone State's other team did in 1979, when a bunch of players adopted a Sister Sledge song and stunned the Orioles with some unbelievable pitching and three consecutive wins.

Or they could look at how the Senators' decision to pitch Walter Johnson too many times on short rest (sound familiar?) in 1925 eventually cost Washington a title.

They could ask the Cardinals about first-base umpire Don Denkinger (1985) or about left-handed starter Mickey Lolich (1968).

The common message here -- a 3-1 deficit does not mean a team is necessarily left for dead.

"Everybody has to come out and do their part," lefty Cole Hamels said. "We want to go to Game 7. We want to win it. We want to take that parade."

Five off the floor
The Phillies are trying to become the sixth team in seven-game World Series history to come back from a 3-1 deficit. The first five:
Year Winner Loser
1985 Royals Cardinals
1979 Pirates Orioles
1968 Tigers Cardinals
1958 Yankees Braves
1925 Pirates Senators

Such a hole was first successfully hurdled in the sport's first Fall Classic, a best-of-nine series in 1903 in which Boston won four straight to win the series, 5-3. To do so, Boston lived off its pitching, limiting Pittsburgh to just a .237 average even with National League batting champion, Honus Wagner.

Twenty-two years later, in a World Series plagued with poor weather conditions throughout, heavily favored Washington gambled with its ace and regretted it. Yes, times were different and pitchers often pitched more often than every five days, but Senators manager Bucky Harris was questioned for pushing Johnson so far.

As writer Lamont Buchanan put it: "In 1925, the Senators hopped the Big Train once too often."

The Phillies hope that they can say the same about the Yankees and CC Sabathia, who is in line to pitch a second World Series game on three days' rest if this series goes to a Game 7.

As Ben Francisco put it: "I think it affects you because you get out of your routine, and baseball is a game of routine."

The third team to erase a 3-1 deficit was the 1958 Yankees, who stunned the Milwaukee Braves with three straight behind its dominant pitching. New York did it by taking Game 5 at home and then the next two on the road. Sound like a familiar quest?

The 1968 Tigers and the '79 Pirates accomplished the same feat, again both behind the dominance of their pitching. That '79 team out of Pittsburgh was baseball's last club to roll off three must-win victories, with the last two being on the road.

2009 World Series
Gm. 1 PHI 6, NYY 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 2 NYY 3, PHI 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 3 NYY 8, PHI 5 Wrap Video
Gm. 4 NYY 7, PHI 4 Wrap Video
Gm. 5 PHI 8, NYY 6 Wrap Video
Gm. 6 NYY 7, PHI 3 Wrap Video

An intimidating feat? The Phillies, following Monday's win, said no.

"It's going to be as big as this game and this was as big as it gets," closer Ryan Madson said of Game 6. "We've definitely got the momentum it feels like."

And the most recent team to do what the Phillies are trying to accomplish was the 1985 Royals, who took the I-70 Series behind the benefit of a blown call and a stacked rotation. The Cardinals, as you might remember, were on the wrong side of the series' sudden momentum shift.

The commonality in most of these past Series has been the strength of its pitching, something that the Phillies don't necessarily boast as their strong suit. But Philadelphia does have Pedro Martinez going in Game 6 on Wednesday, something the Philly faithful have to be encouraged by. That would lead to a Game 7, where all bets can be thrown out the window.

"You just come out with the same demeanor," first baseman Ryan Howard said. "You just come out and claw."

Such a deficit has been erased before. Now, can it be done again?

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.