Category Archives: San Diego

What a Choke!

What a weekend for sports! The Boston Celtics knocked off the Cleveland Cavaliers, in LeBron’s last chance before his upcoming free agency to show what he is made of. The Boston Bruins just died in a game 7 that was eerily similar to the series, as they went up 3-0 only to blow it and lose 4-3. The Celtics then went on to win game 1 in Orlando, at times dominating the Magic. Oh yeah, there was some baseball played too, but it wasn’t that exciting in comparison. With some rather big collapses happening, I decided to reflect on some of the biggest (as well as some of my personal favorite) collapses and chokes in history. With a lot of discussion about chokes in sports, I will start with what I used as a definition.

Choke [chohk] (verb,choked, chok·ing, noun) -A choke is a team failing to execute in a situation where they should be more than just a favorite to win. This often occurs in a situation where any par performance would have resulted in a sound victory. Some sort of failure on the team to execute is required. A choke may be viewed in the context of a single game, a series, or a season.

And with that, my top 13.

#13) 2010 NCAA Tournament: Kansas University loses to Northern Iowa in 2nd round

Kansas was not only the favorite to win this game but one of two favorites to win the tournament. Over 80% of ESPN Tournament Bracket players had either Kansas or Kentucky winning. Neither made the final four, but Kentucky wasn’t eliminated in the second round by a 9-seed. Brackets were decimated.

#12) 2007 ALCS: Cleveland Indians

Cleveland loves their collapses, as they were unable to hold a 3-1 series lead against the Boston Red Sox. For a team with 19 game winners C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, as well as future Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, this team was completely unable to close, allowing the Red Sox to steamroll themselves to their 2nd world series in four years.

#11) 1964 Phillies Phold

After a magical season including Jim Bunning’s perfect game (first in the NL since 1880), the Phightin’ Phils had a 6.5 game lead with 12 to play. After losing 10 games in a row, with the first seven at home, the Phillies had sunk to 3rd place, and would not be a part of any postseason activity. Phail.

#10) 2007/2008 Regular Season: New York Mets

The Mets have recently become the poster child for late season failures. In 2007, the Mets had a 7 game lead on September 12th, with 17 games left to play. The Mets only won 5 of those 17. They lost 5 of 6 to the 4th place Nationals. This one went down to the last game of the season, only to have Tom Glavine let up seven runs in the first culminating in a great collapse.

The Mets then went out and signed two time Cy Young Award Winner Johan Santana, figuring that this would compensate for any weaknesses associated with their collapse. They went into 2008 as surefire favorites to win the NL East, only to be once again eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of season. This was just the beginning of the issues for the Mets as they would plunge to 4th place and a 70 win season in 2009, a team that was once again predicted to contend for a playoff run.

#9) 2007-2008 Pursuit of Perfection: 18-1 New England Patriots

You may note that in my definition above I said that a choke may be defined as a season and I would like to make that distinction here. This was a choked season which is not to be confused with a choked game. The only reason that they make this list was the potential implications of being the greatest NFL team of all time by obtaining a perfect 19-0 record. The Super Bowl itself does not quite qualify to me as a choke. Sure, the Patriots were up 14-3 going into the 4th quarter, but the Giants’ 14 point run bordered on the miraculous. “The Helmet Catch” was a freak play, something one could probably not reproduce in many attempts.  It turned out to be a game where the clock operators were under as much scrutiny as any coach’s decision. There didn’t seem to be a failure on the part of the Patriots to win the game, but more like a spectacular drive by the Giants to put them over the top. The NFL, probably more any other sport, is one where any team can win on any given day. For this reason, I categorize failure to capitalize on the pursuit of perfection as a choke and not the game itself.

#8) 1942 Red Wings / 1975 Penguins

Any team that has ever been up 3-0 in a series and doesn’t win certainly falls into the choke categories. Both of these teams lost to the higher seeded team in the end, after failing to complete their respective underdog runs. For this reason, they get only slightly more credit than #7.

#7) 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals (Hockey): Boston Bruins

They had four chances to beat out the somewhat injured and defeated Flyers, who became only the third hockey team to accomplish such a feat. I thought about ranking this higher, but let us not forget that the Bruins were not a very good team to begin with this season. Two months ago, there were questions as to them even making the playoffs. The Flyers were a lower seed than the Bruins, making this slightly worse than #8. Give it five years for all to settle in, and this will be grouped in the same category as the Wings and Penguins.

#6) 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals (Basketball): Cleveland Cavaliers

In a collapse that left LeBron James without a title in Cleveland, the Celtics may have not only made headlines for themselves, but they may have just cost LeBron a huge part of his legacy.  Cleveland was his city and his team. After numerous opportunities to make a championship run and numerous failures, one can accuse coaching, front office management, and the players themselves.

The fact is that LeBron will take the brunt of this, and Cleveland will suffer if he leaves. For a team that was the best home team in Basketball for several years, they squandered their last two home games. Boston may have earned this win with spectacular defense and a tremendously elevated level of play, but the fact remains that LeBron choked in his abilities to bring a championship to the Cavs.

#5) 1978 Red Sox

Boston held a 14 game lead over the New York Yankees, a lead that would dwindle only to be eventually erased after being swept in a four game set by New York, now referred to as The Boston Massacre. The Yankees forced a one game playoff tie breaker where Bucky Dent, who had hit an average of three HR’s per season in his career; hit a 3 run homer to lead the Yankees to a 5-4 victory over the Sox. The Yankees went on to win the World Series. Bucky ******* Dent.

#4) 1990-1994 Buffalo Bills

The only thing worse than being 0-4 in Super Bowl appearances (Vikings, Bills) is doing it in four straight years. The Bills made their first appearance in the Super Bowl in 1991, only to lose by one point to the New York Giants. They would repeat their Super Bowl run in the next three years losing to the Redskins, and then in back to back years to the Cowboys.

#3) 2003 NLCS: Chicago Cubs

Similar to #11, the Cubs squandered a 3-1 series lead. What makes this much worse than the Indians, was that in game 6, the Cubs had a 3-0 lead behind Matt Clement’s three hitter with just five outs to go. Lifetime Cubs fan Steve Bartman interfered with a foul ball off the bat of Louis Castillo, preventing Moises Alou from making the catch. The thread had been pulled, and the unraveling began. Bartman was escorted out of the stadium for his own safety, and has been ridiculed ever since. The Curse of the Billy Goat lives on.

#2) 1986 World Series: Boston Red Sox

It was game 6 and the Red Sox had a 3-2 series lead. After scoring two in the top of the 10th, the Red Sox had a 5-3 lead with two out. They were one out from their first championship since 1918, and one out from defeating the curse of the Bambino. A few hits later it was 5-4. Enter Mookie Wilson. Mookie Wilson was at the plate and fought out a ten pitch at bat. On the 7th pitch of the at bat, Bob Stanley’s wild pitch tied the game at five. Pitch number ten to Wilson was the infamous grounder through the legs of Bill Buckner, scoring Ray Knight to win the ball game. There is no guarantee that had Buckner fielded the ball that they would have won, however their inability to close out this game, as well as game 7, lands them in the #2 spot all time. I refuse to lower this on the list on the basis that the “curse” has been broken, or that Boston has more or less forgiven Buckner. At the time this was an epic collapse, and it should remain so when talking about it.

#1) 2004 ALCS: New York Yankees

The biggest collapse in sports history, as well as my personal favorite, was the New York Yankees failing to close out the Boston Red Sox after a 3-0 series lead with home field advantage. With a lead going into the 9th inning of game 4, Kevin Millar led off with a walk, off of arguably the best closer of all time, Mariano Rivera. Pinch runner Dave Roberts was Boston’s personal savior that night. The entire world knew that Roberts was stealing second, and after several pickoff attempts he went on the first pitch Rivera sent home. Safe.

This was the single turning point, as Bill Mueller would single him in for the tie. David Ortiz would then hit a two run shot in the 12th, giving the Sox their first win in the series. This was just a taste of what was coming. Rivera would blow the save again in game 5, this time with some help from Tom Gordon. Boston went on to win this game in the 14th where David Ortiz was the walk-off star again singling in Damon. Curt Shilling would pitch the “Bloody Sock” game in game 6 in Yankee Stadium, and the Boston bats beat up the Yankees in game 7 to cap the greatest comeback ever. Everything made this series epic. It was Sox/Yanks, it was Rivera, it was David Ortiz, it was long games ending well after midnight, it was the lovable idiots taking down the evil empire, and it was certainly the biggest choke ever.

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Red Sox 2 – Rockies 0: The Sox Can’t be Stopped

Ubaldo Jimenez? Really? As someone who generally follows the American League much closer than the National League, I was awfully surprised to hear Ubaldo Jimenez was pitching game 2. I’m just so used to seeing bigger names in postseason play. I didn’t know much about this guy, just that he threw hard.

 And throw hard he did. He kept the Sox from putting 10 runs up on the board. He got Pedroia out with one pitch to start the game, very unlike the disciplined Red Sox. The Sox could have given into this, they could have swung hard, and let him beat them. What happened instead? They made him work, they got men on base, he got out of jams, they got him into deep counts, and he would get them out.

But that’s the point! This guy had thrown 91 pitches when they took him out in the 5th inning. 91 PITCHES! Complete game performances usually fall in the 100-120 pitch range. This is what the Sox do! They knocked out yet another starter, made the bullpen pitch yet again.

And that’s only ONE dynamic of this Red Sox team! They have the ability to get the starter out of the game, they have the ability to put up 10 runs, they have the ability to pitch well, and have good to great defense pretty much everywhere on the field, Manny included. They have the ability to grind at bats, and take a clutch walk. They have the speed to steal the Dave Roberts base if need be. They have the power to get that 3 run home run, or the ability to lay down a bunt. The lineup is dangerous in different ways top to bottom. They will take the blowout if you hand it to them, but can fight to the death in a 1 run game better than any team I’ve seen this year.

The bullpen on this team is brilliantly constructed as well. Okajima is pitching like he did in April. Why? Because they gave him September time off, they rested him, controlled his usage, and didn’t over pitch him. Papelbon anyone? Why do you think he can go more than an inning right now? His first career 2 inning save happened in the Cleveland Series (despite the end score being a blowout.) That isn’t a coincidence! They didn’t let him do that this season so he COULD now! He didn’t over pitch, and he didn’t have an injury collapse like in 2006.

The Red Sox just have more ways to win than other teams. The Yankees this year could pretty much only win by slugging. San Diego had the best ERA in the majors and couldn’t make the postseason (at the hands of the Rockies in game 163 for those of you who forgot how Colorado got here.) San Diego finished in 20th or 30 in runs scored in the Majors, and 9th of 16 in the NL. That’s why the Sox are going to win, they are all around the best team.

Yes the Rockies can win some games in this series. (As I predicted Sox in 6)
Yes they could put up 10 runs and make Matsuzaka look silly.
Yes the Red Sox CAN lose games.

No I don’t see any way the Red Sox can lose a 7 game series already up 2-0.

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Postseason ’07

October. I love it. This is what baseball fans wait all year for. This year has a completely different look to it. Last year was a year where the Red Sox collapsed due to injury, the Tigers were the young guns proving they belong. Only the Yankees and Padres were in the playoffs last year and managed to make it back again this year. That’s right, only 2 teams. The other 6 all missed in ’06 and all have something to prove. Here are my predictions and reasoning for the 2007 Major League Baseball Playoffs.

 ALDS: Angles Vs. Red Sox

Prediction: Red Sox in 4

The Red Sox are in my mind the only team who really can take out the Angles. The Angles are a very strong team, and I do not doubt that they will pull off a win against either Matsuzaka or Schilling, but overall, I think this Red Sox starting rotation is going to keep the big Angles bats quiet. This series could go 5 games, but even if it does, I’m sticking with the Sox on this one. Trust that Beckett will get this team out to an early series lead.

ALDS: Yankees Vs. Indians

Prediction: Indians in 5

Yes that’s right ladies and gentlemen. I’m going to be the bold one here and say that the Yankees will not make it out of the first round of the playoffs. Yes the Yankees have been a hot second season team, and yes they have a fantastic offense, but I’m siding with Sabathia and Carmona. The Yanks will no doubt win 2 games by hitting the ball to the moon, but if we see Sabathia in a game 5 I have to side with the Indians.

ALCS: Indians Vs. Red Sox

Prediction: Red Sox in 7 (Maybe 6)

This is a very tough one for me to call. If this was Red Sox – Yankees, I say Red Sox no problem. I think Cleveland is the one team that can give the Sox real trouble in this playoff race. That being said, I expect this series to be absolutely amazing, some great pitchers duels, but I think the Red Sox and home field advantage will come out on top.

NLDS: Rockies Vs. Phillies

Prediction: Phillies in 3

If you want to talk about a streaking team, the Phillies are it. That combined with a huge Mets collapse got them to a Division Title. They are on fire, and they are all on top of the world right now. Expect them to come out swinging hard and to put up some big numbers in their first few games.

Okay, I know what you are thinking, the Rockies just won the 163rd game of the season in the 13th inning. They are equally pumped right now. The difference is that games 1 and 2 are in Philadelphia. Philly wants a championship and I expect Citizens Bank Park to be just as loud as a Red Sox / Yankees Playoff game in Fenway. Advantage Phillies.

NLDS: Cubs Vs. Diamondbacks

Prediction: Diamondbacks in 4

Youth versus Money. I’m going with youth on this one. I will admit however, I don’t see much of these teams. I get the occasional sports center recap, but on the whole, I don’t know these teams. This is probably the prediction I am most unsure about.

NLCS: Phillies Vs Diamondbacks

Prediction: Diamondbacks in 6 

I would love to see the Phillies win this, I think a Boston-Philadelphia World series would be amazing, unfortunately I think Philadelphia is in for another heartbreak. They just aren’t a world series team this year. Pitching is going to hurt them and the Diamondbacks will advance.

World Series: Diamondbacks Vs. Red Sox

Prediction: Red Sox in 5

Home field advantage, DH, strong lineup, strong rotation, stronger league. Everything here makes me think the National League doesn’t really stand a chance against any of the AL teams.

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