Commentary

Reds know crazy things can happen

For Cincy to recover from 0-2 deficit, they must overcome Phillies' 'Bermuda Triangle'

Originally Published: October 10, 2010
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

CINCINNATI -- We're not sure what the odds are of beating Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt in back-to-back-to-back win-or-else October baseball games. But for the Reds these days, that's all that stands between them and snow-shoveling season.

So as long as their odds are better than zero, they'll take them.

"At the end of the day, you always want to live to play another game," Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. "That's just the way it is. So if our reward for winning is another shot at Roy Halladay [in Game 4], then hey, we'd love to see him."

As they head into Game 3 of their National League Division Series on Sunday night, the Reds are well aware there might not be a human outside their very own zip code who thinks they can survive after going down two games to zip to the Phillies, with nothing but aces on their horizon.

But this is one mysterious and unpredictable sport. So even the manager of the team that's up two is willing to concede that the improbable can and does come true in this game -- uh, for everybody else, anyway.

"I think sometimes," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, "when you play, and when you look and say, 'There's no way that can happen,' the more I think about it, and the longer I've been in the game, and how we talk about the day-to-day thing, and how we're going to play on that day, it CAN happen."

But once he had that out of the way, it was time for Manuel to say how he really felt. And the gleam in his eye was his way of revealing he was only willing to philosophize so much at times like this.

[+] EnlargeCole Hamels
AP Photo/John BazemoreThe Reds have never beaten Cole Hamels. They'll need to in Game 3 to stay alive.

"It ain't GOIN' to happen," he laughed. "But it CAN happen."

At this point, though, the Reds are counting on the fact that -- theoretically, at least -- it's possible for it to happen. But this is the point in this column where we take a few paragraphs to let them know exactly how big a mess they're in right now. They can thank us later.

• Of the 38 Division Series before this year in which a team got down, two games to none, only four of those teams came back to win -- the '95 Mariners, '99 Red Sox, '01 Yankees and '03 Red Sox. That's 10.5 percent.

• And since the LDS switched to the current 2-2-1 format, 27 teams (again, before this year) lost Games 1 and 2. Only three found a way to advance to the LCS. That's 11.1 percent.

• But over in the National League, those odds are about to plummet dramatically. In the NL, 18 previous teams have found themselves at the bottom of the same LDS canyon the Reds are in. NONE came back to win. That would be 0 percent.

So now that we've got those basics spelled out for you, it's now time for the Reds' picture to get even bleaker. That's because we're about to examine the even taller odds they face in trying to beat the three Phillies starters whom shortstop Jimmy Rollins has been calling "The Bermuda Triangle."

• Those three have been together since July 30, the day Oswalt hopped off the plane from Houston and lost his first start as a Phillie. But starting the next day -- and eliminating a couple of abbreviated tuneup starts by Oswalt and Hamels after the Phillies had clinched first place -- Oswalt, Halladay and Hamels have started 34 "meaningful" games. The Phillies have won 27 of them. That's a .794 winning percentage. Just so you grasp how ridiculous that is, a team that played at that rate over a 162-game season would finish 96 games over .500 (129-33).

• Never, at any point since Oswalt joined the Phillies' rotation, have the Phillies lost three consecutive games that he, Halladay and Hamels started -- in any order.

• And only once, in fact, have the Phillies even lost two straight starts by any combination of those three -- on Aug. 24-25, when they lost Hamels-Halladay starts against Houston.

• But since those two games with the Astros, The Big Three has discovered a whole new untouchable gear. The Phillies have gone 19-2 in meaningful games that trio started since then. So that's a total of two losses -- in seven full turns through the rotation.

OK, now that you've digested all that, we ask again: What the heck are the odds that a team that has lost twice in the last 21 meaningful games these three have pitched is now going to allow the Reds to win three games IN A ROW started by those same three guys?

Clearly, you don't need to work for Bodog to know how grim those odds really are. But that doesn't mean the Phillies are ready to make that announcement.

"I know in this game that nothing's guaranteed," Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth said. "And more often than not, if you open your mouth and say something to the effect that something will never happen, that's when it happens. So I'm not going to say no comment. I'm just going to say that I like our chances. I like where we're sitting. I like our situation. And I like our guys.

"But how many times does it happen where you say, 'Oh, that'll never happen,' and then it happens the next day?"

Well, it happens just enough that it pays to be diplomatic when you're up 2-0. And in the Reds' clubhouse these days, there's a man who hasn't merely seen it happen. He's been there and helped his buddies do it -- twice.

That man would be Bronson Arroyo. And back when he played for the Red Sox, he was part of two of the most miraculous postseason comebacks of this millennium. In the 2003 ALDS, they were down 2-0 to Cleveland -- and won three in a row. And a year later -- stop us if you've heard this -- they were down 3-0 to some team from New York in the ALCS and won four in a row.

So if THAT could happen, and a member of this very same team lived through both of those miracles, why not this? That's Arroyo's story, and he's sticking to it.

"Every team, every year, every series is such a unique experience," Arroyo said Saturday. "And no team is the same. So we'll see if we can pull ourselves out of this. It's not going to be easy. But there's no reason not to try."

As Arroyo now looks back on October 2004, he still remembers Kevin Millar running around the field before Game 4, saying: "Don't let the Sox win one game." And he still recalls, after his team had won that one game, Johnny Damon grumbling (jokingly) to his pals: "C'mon guys. I've got a fishing trip planned for Monday. You guys are messing me up here."

[+] EnlargeBronson Arroyo
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesReds pitcher Bronson Arroyo was part of the Red Sox team that came back from a 3-0 deficit in '04 against the Yankees. He knows comebacks are possible.

But beyond the jokes and the chuckles was a lesson these Reds can go to school on themselves. And now would be a real good time for them to register for that particular lesson.

"I think the only lesson, really, is that the hardest thing to do in anything in life is just to forget about yesterday and only think about what you can control," Arroyo said. "That's the toughest thing to do. And at this time of year, sometimes it's even harder. You realize that window of opportunity is closing fast, and if you don't get something done, you're going to be going home. So I think the only lesson, really, is to simplify, simplify. Take every inning and every out of the next game and try to win that battle. And if you win that battle, it means you win that game. And then you can live for another day."

These Reds, obviously, have never fought a battle quite like those 2004 Red Sox. But this team HAS fought this year -- just slightly more literally. That's all.

It was two months ago when these Reds got swept at home by St. Louis in a first-place showdown highlighted by a bench-clearing, temper-flaring karate-kicking Rumble By The River behind home plate.

"When that brawl, and that sweep, were over, there were only 25 people in the country who DIDN'T think we were going to fade," said Reds outfielder Jonny Gomes. "And they were all in the same place -- in this clubhouse.

"Well, those same 25 guys don't think we're going to fade [Sunday], either. And you know what? We don't have to."

They know they have to start this survivor series by beating a pitcher they've never beaten. That would be Hamels, who is 6-0 with a 1.07 ERA against the Reds in seven career starts. So that'll be fun.

And if they pull that off, their fun will just be beginning. Because a win in Game 3 just buys them a ticket to a reunion with the man who just no-hit them Wednesday -- Mr. Roy Halladay.

But when Gomes began contemplating that thought, you might be surprised by his reaction.

"Hey," he said. "Can't wait."

That date with snow-shoveling season, on the other hand? THAT can wait.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com