Split take: History lesson on 2-2 series

In LCS history, Game 5 win looms large, especially when teams are even

October 18th, 2017

The Astros jumped out to a 2-0 series lead at their home ballpark. Now the Yankees have evened things up at theirs, following Tuesday's 6-4 comeback victory in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
And so it is that Wednesday's Game 5 of the ALCS presented by Camping World at Yankee Stadium looms large as both clubs try to battle their way into the Fall Classic.
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It's no secret that this game is critcial. But just how crucial? Here's what history tells us about the importance of Game 5 in a best-of-seven series tied at two games apiece:
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Game 5 is a turning point
In 1985, the ALCS and the National League Championship Series both expanded to a best-of-seven format. Since then, there have been 27 LCS or World Series knotted up at 2-2. The club that won Game 5 went on to win the series in 18 of those (66.7 percent).
One doesn't have to look too far back for an example. In last year's NLCS, the Cubs and Dodgers played even through four games, before Chicago took Game 5 by an 8-4 score, then shut out Los Angeles, 5-0, in the Game 6 clincher.
Game 5 winners in the LCS have had it made
For whatever reason, teams that have taken Game 5 in a 2-2 World Series have finished off a championship run just five of 11 times. That includes the 2014 Giants and '13 Red Sox, who both followed up Game 5 victories with a victory parade.
In the LCS, however, the numbers have been much more stark. After winning the series' fifth game to take a 3-2 lead, 13 of 16 teams have advanced to the World Series. That includes 10 of the past 11 since 1992.
The only exception came in 2004, and it involved the Astros. Houston, then in the NL, lost the first two games of the NLCS at St. Louis, but responded with three straight home victories. A combined one-hit shutout by Brandon Backe (eight innings) and Brad Lidge in Game 5 put the Astros on the doorstep of the World Series, but they lost Game 6 on Jim Edmonds' 12th-inning walk-off homer and Game 7 when Jeff Suppan outdueled Roger Clemens at Busch Stadium.
Winning Game 5 on the road is particularly momentous
Given the 2-3-2 format, this makes sense, as a club holding a 3-2 edge with Games 6 and 7 at home is in a better spot than one trying to close things out in a hostile environment.
Looking at both the LCS and World Series since 1985, clubs snapping a 2-2 tie by winning Game 5 at home are a pedestrian 9-8. Those eight clubs dropping the final two games on the road include not just those 2004 Astros but also the '01 Yankees against the D-backs in the Fall Classic. That club won the middle three games of the World Series at Yankee Stadium to move in front, but back in Phoenix, the D-backs pummeled the Yanks, 15-2, in Game 6 before capturing a legendary Game 7 on Luis Gonzalez's walk-off single against Mariano Rivera.
On the other hand, clubs taking a happy flight back home following a Game 5 road win have closed things out nine of 10 times. That list includes those 2016 Cubs in the NLCS, as well as three different Yankees teams.
In both the 1996 World Series against the Braves and the '98 ALCS against the Indians, New York captured Game 5 on the road, then wasted no time in a decisive Game 6 back in the Bronx. Most recently, the 2003 Yanks took a 3-2 lead on the Red Sox at Fenway Park but ultimately were pushed to a Game 7, which ended on Aaron Boone's 11th-inning walk-off homer.
This time, the Yankees don't have the benefit of Games 6 and 7 in New York. Instead, it will be the Astros looking to shake off a pair of rough performances to get on the right side of history heading back to Houston.