Game 5 is the hardest
But it gets easier, believe it or not.
Game 5 is the hardest
Having spent about an hour looking at old World Series records, you will forgive me if I'm a tiny bit off here. But it will be only a tiny bit, and the lesson remains:
That is, that Game 5 will be the hardest game for the Phillies.
It is a little bit complicated because all of the World Series have not been seven-game series and some have included ties. But, in my best attempt to compare apples to apples, it seems obvious that for the team trailing by three games to one, as the Phillies are now, that Game 5 is the toughest.
But it gets easier if you can endure.
By my feeble calculations, there have been 41 best-of-seven series in which one team took a 3-to-1 lead. And, well, here goes.
Of the 41 Game 5's that followed, the team leading the series closed it out, then and there, 23 times. That is, the team leading won 56 percent of the time and ended it.
If the trailing team managed to extend the series, there were 18 Game 6's. The team leading the series won 10 times. That is, again, 56 percent of the time.
But if the trailing team managed to extend the series to seven games, the odds flipped violently. Momentum, nerves, whatever, but when it gets to Game 7, the team attempting to defend that original 3-to-1 lead gets overtaken more often than not. Best as I can tell, the chasing team won five times (in '85, '79, '68, '58 and '25) and the leading team won three times ('72, '67 and '12, although that last series featured a tie).
In rough terms, then:
Right now, based on history, the Phils would be about a 8-to-1 shot to win the series.
If Cliff Lee can win them Game 5, they become about a 3.5-to-1 shot to win it.
If they can win Game 6, the Phillies become the favorite.
All of that, again, is based on history and nothing but history -- which is instructive, maybe, but not determinant when it comes to a World Series being played in 2009.
And, one final time: I get what people say when they talk about pitching Cliff Lee on 3 days' rest in Game 4. Nobody, though, seems to want to deal with the reality that Joe Blanton would then have had to pitch Game 5. A rested Blanton and a rested Lee vs. a short-rested Lee and a rested Blanton -- that is the argument. At the end of Game 5, the Phillies will be in exactly the same spot -- but the way they have done it, they get Lee at what they have reason to hope will be his best.
The only way it was wrong not to pitch Lee in Game 4 is if the Phillies are now mentally broken by the size of the 3-1 deficit. Their recent history says they will not be. Now they get a chance to prove it.