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Fun With World Series Statistics, from our Probably Meaningless Dept.

Game Three tonight in the World Series, and this promises to be huge. When the first two games have been split, only once since 1979 has a team lost the third, but still come back to win the World Series. That was the 2003 Marlins, who then reeled off three straight victories in beating the Yankees (pause for smirk of satisfaction); otherwise, whoever takes the third game, ends up winning it all.

Figured I'd go through the past 25 World Series contests and see how significant each game is, in terms of determining the winner. In the chart below, an X means the game was won by the eventual World Series champion, an O means it was won by the loser. Upper-case (X/O) means it was at home, lower-case (x/o) on the road.

        1         1         2
        9         9         0
        8         9         0
Game 1: XOooxooXXXXXOX XoXXxXXoxXX
Game 3: OXxxXxxOOxxOXx OxxxXOOxoxx
Game 4: OXOxXOxOxxxOXx xxOxXxOOXxx
Game 5: xXOxXxOOx  OoO Oxx  xOOX  
Game 6: XxX  XXX   XxX XXo   XXx  
Game 7:   X  XXX   X     X   XX   

Game 1: Eventual winners are 17-8 (14-6 home, 3-2 road)
Game 2: 17-8 (15-5, 2-3)
Game 3: 17-8 (4-1, 13-7)
Game 4: 17-8 (5-0, 12-8)
Game 5: 10-9 (3-1, 7-8)
Game 6: 14-1 (11-1, 3-0)
Game 7: 8-0 (8-0, 0-0)
Total: 100-42 (60-14 home, 40-28 road)

Interesting to see that winning teams have exactly the same record in all four "compulsory" contests. Game Five is the least significant in terms of determining the actual champion, but if it goes to Game Six, you'd better hope you win it - the only team in the time-span covered who lost the sixth game, but still went on to win were the 1997 Marlins, who lost to Cleveland before winning Game 7. Of course, a good chunk of this can be explained by Game 6 being the last game: in these 25 series, seven ended at that point. [Eight went the full distance, six were sweeps, and four took five games] But the team that won game six to force a seventh contest, are 7-1 in those match-ups too.

Home-field advantage also seems to play a large part: that's an .811 winning percentage at home, which is startling, even if we're skewing things by looking only at teams who won. Overall, the home team is at .620, which is more credible. 80% of winners started on their own turf, though the only "real" benefit is getting to play a deciding seventh game there too. That can be crucial: no team has won Game Seven on the road since the Pirates beat the Orioles in 1979 - since then, the home team are 8-0. But winners show mastery on the road as well, right through the World Series: they're never more than one game below .500 away from home, and overall, are 40-28.

Hard to say what this means for the 2006 series. A split is obviously the most indecisive result, effectively reducing it to a best-of-five, though the Cardinals now have home-field advantage, so can win without returning to Detroit. And they'd better do so, since home teams are 19-4 in Games 6+7. But St Louis' victory in the opener broke the AL's streak of eight straight World Series games, and ironically, means this 83-win Cardinals team, have already done better than the 105-win outfit which took the National League pennant in 2004.

If you're looking for omens, the 1973 Mets, the only team to make the World Series with a worse record than the 2006 Cardinals, also split the first two games of their championship on the road (though the order was reversed). They went on to lose in seven to the Athletics, so if that's any kind of predictor, look for the Cardinals to take two of three in St. Louis before dropping both games in Detroit. Could certainly do with a Game Seven, and we're about due. Only once in the past fifty years has baseball gone more than four years without one (1991-1997); the last time was the 2002 Angels/Giants duel.