© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

10/27/06 3:29 AM ET

Cardinals have been in this spot before

St. Louis knows 3-1 World Series lead is no guarantee of title

ST. LOUIS -- Outside of Busch Stadium in the wee hours of Friday morning, just as the driving rain finally began to fall, cars were honking and fans were giddy with anticipation over the possibility that the Cardinals' longest World Series championship drought could be over right here within the next 24 hours.

That was certainly to be expected. It's a new ballpark and a new day in St. Louis. The Cardinals have a 3-1 Series lead over the Tigers. There have been 42 cases in which a team had such a lead in the World Series, and 36 times that team has celebrated the championship. Cardinal fans are feeling it, and it was Jack Buck himself who once told them it was OK to "Go crazy, folks, go crazy."

But here in 2006, no team in this situation can tell a better cautionary tale than this very franchise poised for its first title since 1982. There is just too much history, too many remarkable coincidences in play right now to think that the Cardinals themselves have anything on their minds other than one-pitch-at-a-time.

"We know the history and we know how good the Tigers are," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said after the 5-4 victory over Detroit in Game 4. "Just come out [Friday] and play as good as you can, hard as you can, and see what happens.

For those who don't know the history, here it is: Six Major League clubs have had 3-1 leads and lost the World Series, with two of the last three occasions happening to the Cardinals in circumstances that certainly seem relevant now. And that doesn't count the time in 1996 when the Cards blew a 3-1 lead in losing the National League pennant to the Braves. Amid all the honking, here are the details:

1985: Denkinger and dismay
In an uncanny coincidence, Thursday night marked the 21st anniversary of the "Don Denkinger call." It is a deep-rooted part of Cardinal lore. St. Louis had taken a 3-1 lead in that "I-70 Series" against Kansas City, and then Danny Jackson had pitched the Royals to a victory at old Busch Stadium to make it 3-2.

Back in Kansas City for Game 6, the Cardinals had a 1-0 lead and the champagne on ice in the clubhouse entering the bottom of the ninth. Royals pinch-hitter Jorge Orta led off with a slow roller to first baseman Jack Clark, who tossed to reliever Todd Worrell at the bag, apparently in time to retire Orta according to time-immemorial replays. But Denkinger, the first-base umpire, called Orta safe. One missed pop foul, two singles, one out and an intentional walk later, pinch-hitter Dane Iorg drove a soft liner to right field, scoring Onix Concepcion and Jim Sundberg with the tying and winning runs.

It was all Kansas City in Game 7, with Series MVP Bret Saberhagen throwing a five-hit shutout and giving the Royals their only title to date. Heartbroken Cardinal fans were left to tell the story about the Game 6 call for years to come.

It was a year in which America wrestled with itself over civil rights and mounting Vietnam War discord, a year in which Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated; the gradual change of a society. It was also the last time until 2006 that the Cardinals and Tigers played in a World Series, and the Cardinals were cruising along with a 3-1 Series lead and even enjoying overall home-field advantage.

Detroit won it all.

Can it get any more ironic than this? Maybe only if the Cardinals had entered this series with the home-field advantage. Curt Flood misjudged a key Game 7 fly ball to center in 1968, and Curtis Granderson slipped on a key fly to center during the Cardinals' comeback victory on Thursday night. The 1968 Tigers won those final three games by a combined 22-5 score, getting victories from Series MVP Mickey Lolich in Games 5 and 7, and somehow finding a way to win the clincher against the same Bob Gibson who had struck out a record 17 Tigers in Game 1.

The same Bob Gibson, who on Thursday night accompanied a local Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club member to the mound to deliver the ball for Game 4.

Cardinals fans love their history, loved seeing Gibson in their presence again for an ephemeral moment at this event. But there are some things they just don't want to relive, and things that are just too noteworthy to forget. If you are a Cardinals fan, you probably would prefer to remember what had happened in 1967, when St. Louis had a 3-1 Series lead over Boston, lost the next two, but won the title in seven games. This is a club that has seen a little of everything at 3-1.

Teams Up 2-1, Improve to 3-1 and Win World Series
Thirty-two teams in Major League Baseball history have taken a 2-1 World Series lead, went on to win Game 4 and proceeded to win the Fall Classic, while only six have lost.
Winning Team
Losing Team
WS Result
NY Giants 1905 Philadelphia A's 4-1
Chicago Cubs 1908 Detroit Tigers 4-1
Philadelphia A's 1911 NY Giants 4-2
Boston Red Sox 1912 NY Giants 4-3*
Philadelphia A's 1913 NY Giants 4-1
Boston Red Sox 1915 Philadelphia Phillies 4-1
Boston Red Sox 1916 Brooklyn Dodgers 4-1
Boston Red Sox 1918 Chicago Cubs 4-2
Cincinnati Reds 1919 Chicago White Sox 5-3**
Philadelphia A's 1929 Chicago Cubs 4-1
NY Giants 1933 Wash. Senators 4-1
Detroit Tigers 1935 Chicago Cubs 4-2
NY Yankees 1936 NY Giants 4-2
NY Yankees 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers 4-1
St. Louis Cardinals 1942 NY Yankees 4-1
NY Yankees 1943 St. Louis Cardinals 4-1
Cleveland Indians 1948 Boston Braves 4-2
NY Yankees 1949 Brooklyn Dodgers 4-1
LA Dodgers 1959 Chicago White Sox 4-2
NY Yankees 1961 Cincinnati Reds 4-1
St. Louis Cardinals 1967 Boston Red Sox 4-3
NY Mets 1969 Baltimore Orioles 4-1
Oakland A's 1972 Cincinnati Reds 4-3
Oakland A's 1974 LA Dodgers 4-1
NY Yankees 1977 LA Dodgers 4-2
Baltimore Orioles 1983 Philadelphia Phillies 4-1
Detroit Tigers 1984 San Diego Padres 4-1
LA Dodgers 1988 Oakland A's 4-1
Toronto Blue Jays 1992 Atlanta Braves 4-2
Toronto Blue Jays 1993 Philadelphia Phillies 4-2
Atlanta Braves 1995 Cleveland Indians 4-2
NY Yankees 2000 NY Mets 4-1
* Game 2 ended in a tie
** Best-of-nine format

"I'm not afraid to jinx it. I'm not going to jinx anything," La Russa said in his office at the very moment those cars honked like a warmup celebration outside.

"The reality is, although we are close, you have to win four games. We have three. It's just facts. We face the facts. I was encouraged. I didn't see anybody over celebrating [among the players] out there. It's only three."

How it all began
The "World's Championship Series" made its debut in 1903, setting the course for a beloved annual event. That year, the Pirates took a 3-1 series lead over the Boston Pilgrims. Pittsburgh was not the first World Series champion. Boston was. To make it even more impressive, consider that it was a best-of-nine series that year and the Pilgrims had the focus to win the last four games in a row (kind of like that other Boston team would do in the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Yankees, after losing the first three).

The Pirates were also involved in the next example of a 3-1 reversal. In 1925, Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators were in command, but the Pirates won the last three games. It was the first time it happened in a best-of-seven series. Washington shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh, the AL MVP during the season, committed eight errors in the World Series and two that resulted in four unearned runs during Game 7.

In 1958, Hank Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves were on their way toward making it two consecutive World Series titles against the Yankees. On Oct. 5 of that year, Warren Spahn outdueled fellow future Hall of Famer Whitey Ford (their third matchup of the series) in a 3-0 Braves victory that made it a 3-1 series lead. The Bronx Bombers won the last three, with Bob Turley rebounding from his Game 2 early knockout to win the decision in the fifth and seventh games.

The Pirates were involved in another 3-1 reversal, this one in 1979 after the Orioles had jumped to the brink of a clincher. The Orioles were poised to clinch it at their home, old Memorial Stadium, but John Candelaria and Kent Tekulve shut out Baltimore, 4-0, to force a Game 7. Willie Stargell hit a pair of homers to cement his status as Series MVP, and everyone in Pittsburgh sang Sister Sledge's "We Are Family."

"We've got to win three in a row," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after his 2006 club faced what history has proven to be slim-but-surmountable chances. "And that pretty much puts it pretty simple. Are we capable of doing that? Absolutely. Are we in a good position? Absolutely not.

"So I think you just go out and remind the team all the time that if you win the next game in the postseason you keep playing. And obviously that's the case tomorrow. We win, we keep playing. If we don't, we don't."

Maybe there will be a Game 5 on Friday night if the day's constant rains let up in time. Maybe there will be more honking outside of Busch and the return of a world championship. History has shown that St. Louis native Yogi Berra was right: "It ain't over till it's over."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.