Collapses in the postseason are a totally different animal than those in the regular season. You can go from visualizing how you're going to celebrate your team winning a Championship Series or a World Series to wondering exactly what in the heck you did wrong in your life to deserve heartbreak like this in such a short span of time. Players and even entire teams can crack quickly under the pressure. Yes, for both players and fans, the postseason can be a source of euphoria -- or unforgettable misery.
New York Yankees - 2004 ALCS
After they seized a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series, it looked like the Yankees were going to do it again: send the Red Sox home packing while their fan base wailed and gnashed their teeth about the Curse of the Bambino. It looked bad for Boston, as New York had beaten their two best pitchers, Pedro Martinez and a gimpy Curt Schilling. The momentum shift was subtle at first, a Dave Roberts steal of second in Game 4 that helped lead to an extra-inning win. Two more extra-inning nailbiters later, including one heroic performance from a bloody-socked Schilling, the Red Sox forced a Game 7, where they drubbed a shocked Bronx Bombers team to complete a first: a team coming back from being three games down in a series and putting the Yankees on the wrong side of history for once.
St. Louis Cardinals - 1985 World Series
The most enduring memory of this World Series is umpire Don Denkinger's blown call at first base in Game 6, where he called Jorge Orta safe at first when pitcher Todd Worrell clearly beat him to the bag. Denkinger is lucky this happened well before the Twitter era. Things that people forget: St. Louis hitting .185 as a TEAM during that World Series, Jack Clark's dropping a pop-fly earlier in the same inning and it being the first time that a team (the Royals) would come back to win a Series after losing the first two games in their own home park. Add the fact that the Cardinals blew a 3-1 series lead and it was a memorable collapse indeed.
Boston Red Sox - 1986 World Series
Let's forget one of the most famous moments in baseball history -- the ball going through Bill Buckner's legs -- and focus on other facts about why this was a collapse for Boston. First, they had the Mets on the ropes by beating them at Shea the first two games. Only one team had come back from that, and it had just occurred the year before. Secondly, they had one of the best pitchers in baseball in Roger Clemens, and Bruce Hurst was doing his best to be unhittable as well. Before that whole Buckner incident, they were leading by three runs in Game 6 and Clemens was dealing. Then, according to differing reports, Clemens either developed a blister and asked to be taken out or was removed by manager John McNamara. One subsequent ground ball through the wickets and a Game 7 where they gave up an early lead again and Boston was left wondering "What if?" again.
Atlanta Braves - 1996 World Series
Atlanta had to be feeling good -- they looked like they were going to be on the path to repeating as World Champions (never mind that it was a strike-shortened year in '95). Closer Mark Wohlers was dealing on the mound in the ninth, and the Braves were this close to taking a commanding 3-1 lead over the Yankees after taking the first two games in New York. Wohlers had just made Jim Leyritz look bad on two fastballs and then for some reason decided to throw a slider. Leyritz turned on it and hit a game-tying three-run homer and the Bronx Bombers won in the 10th. Atlanta never recovered and the Yankees went on win the first of four World Series in five years. They also became the third team to win a Series after dropping the first two at home. Maybe in an alternate universe, there's a Wohlers who throws a third fastball by Leyritz.
St. Louis Cardinals - 1968 World Series
St. Louis is one of the most storied franchises in in MLB lore, just behind the Yankees. They had one of the most charismatic players in the game in Stan Musial and one of the most intense competitors in Bob Gibson. Musial had retired by '68, but Gibson was in full-on ferocious mode and it only stood to reason that he'd pitch the Redbirds to another World Series win after the Cardinals took a 3-1 Series lead over Detroit. Unfortunately, Mickey Lolich and Denny McLain (who was the Majors' last 30-game winner that season) had other ideas as the Tigers rallied to win the Series (with Lolich outdueling Gibson in Game 7) to make them only the fourth team at the time to win the Series after being down 3-1.
Baltimore Orioles - 1979 World Series
People remember 1979 in Pittsburgh as the "WE ARE FAMI-LEE" team, with the charismatic Willie Stargell at first base and a young Dave Parker patrolling right field. Things looked bleak though, as a powerhouse Orioles team took a commanding 3-1 World Series lead behind the strong pitching of Jim Palmer and the fiery managing of Earl Weaver, who never met an argument he didn't like. Baltimore couldn't hang on though, unable to overcome the loss of their designated hitter during the whole series (this was before National League rules at NL parks and AL rules at AL Parks). Making matters worse, Baltimore lost the last game at home.
California Angels - 1986 ALCS
The Angels were ready to finally send Gene Mauch, who had been managing since the 1960s, to the World Series. Unfortunately, Boston had other ideas, including Dave Henderson hitting a stunning late-game homer off reliever Donnie Moore. The Red Sox then went on to their own Greek Tragedy in the World Series -- Mauch never did make it to the Fall Classic. A tragic footnote: Moore, who gave up that homer to Henderson, committed suicide in 1989.
Toronto Blue Jays - 1985 ALCS
Yup, those Kansas City Royals got not one, but two teams during this postseason. Toronto was all set to celebrate after being up 3-1, behind Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby and George Bell (considered by many to be the best outfield in the Majors at the time) and pitchers like Dave Stieb and Doyle Alexander. The Royals were not to be denied though, and while the Jays can say there were no Denkinger-esque bad calls, they still couldn't stop the bleeding when they had to and were forced to wait seven more years until they made it to the World Series, which they won.
Washington Senators - 1925 World Series
Even a Big Train can get run over. Not even Walter Johnson could save Washington from squandering a 3-1 World Series lead to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Johnson was dominant in Games 1 and 4, but even he couldn't continue his Superman act, losing the deciding Game 7. That Senators team had other standouts like Pie Traynor, and Goose Goslin whacked three homers in the losing effort.
Milwaukee Braves - 1958 World Series
The Braves looked like they were going to get revenge for losing to the Yankees in '57. Warren Spahn was the ace of the Braves and he helped pitch Milwaukee to a 3-1 lead. Of course, this was the Yankees, with Mickey Mantle still in his prime and other stalwart contributors like Hank Bauer and Moose Skowron, and the pitching staff had Whitey Ford and Don Larsen (he of the '56 World Series perfect game). Bauer hit four homers and helped the Yankees come all the way back from their 3-1 hole.
California Angels - 1982 ALCS
Poor Gene Mauch -- a bridesmaid twice in four years. This time his Angels were taking on the Milwaukee Brewers, who were in the American League at the time. Bud Selig was merely an owner then, not the MLB commissioner. The Angels jumped out to a 2-0 Series lead, and since this was a best 3-of-5 playoffs, needed to win one more game to advance to the World Series. That didn't happen as the Brewers mounted a comeback, including a seventh-inning rally in the deciding Game 7 to send Mauch and the Angels packing back to California for the offseason.
New York Yankees - 1981 World Series
Despite it being a strike-shortened season (where they had the lamest way of deciding who won the divisions), the Yankees were back in the postseason. It would be the last time until 1996. It looked good for New York after they beat L.A. the first two games at Yankee Stadium. The Dodgers then reeled off four straight wins and they won their first championship since 1965. For the rest of the decade, the Yankees were relegated to spending a lot of money for no results and owner George Steinbrenner grabbing the back pages of the tabloids to try to keep the team in the spotlight. They hit a nadir in the late '80s and early '90s, but it was the resulting draft picks that helped them mold their late-'90s dynasty.
San Francisco Giants - 2002 World Series
Barry Bonds was this close to winning a World Series, but he and the Giants got mugged by a monkey -- the Rally Monkey, to be precise. That, and those insufferable Thunder Stix. The Giants had a 5-0 lead in Game 6 and were six outs away from winning their first World Series since moving across the country to San Francisco. Then the roof caved in: the Angels, using the momentum of their de facto mascot -- a monkey who danced on their video screen in the late innings -- scored six unanswered runs to win the game and then came back from a 1-0 deficit in Game 7 to win it all. Think Bonds, who hit four homers in the Series, can even look at a monkey in a zoo now?
New York Yankees - 2001 World Series
Destiny and Mystique tripped and fell on their faces as they tried to escort the Yankees to another World Series win. At first it looked like the Yankees were ready to hop on the magic carpet behind crushing late-inning homers off Diamondbacks closer Byung-Hyun Kim in consecutive games. Kim was so traumatized by the homers, his once-promising career was completely derailed. The Yankees still had a chance to bring home another championship though, even after absorbing a crushing defeat in Game 6. They were leading 2-1 in the ninth inning and had their All-World closer, Mariano Rivera, on the mound. Rivera was about as close to automatic as a closer could be, but he faltered on this night of all nights, giving up a bloop single to Luis Gonzalez to cap off a ninth-inning Diamondbacks rally that saw them win the World Series in only their fourth year as an MLB franchise.
Chicago Cubs - 1984 NLCS
It looked like the Cubs were going to finally get to the World Series for the first time since 1908. They had a 2-0 lead over San Diego, but in true Cubs fashion, went on to lose the next three games. One of the cappers of the Padres' comeback was Tim Flannery hitting a grounder that went between first baseman Leon Durham's legs. The ironic thing about Durham's error? Bill Buckner was on the Cubs for the early part of the 1984 season before being traded to Boston. This was the last year that the best 3-of-5 format was used in the NLCS -- wonder how the Cubs would have fared with one extra game to play.