The Texas Rangers' historic 2011 Game 6 collapse - two of them in one game, actually - is one of the all time greats. It will be remembered forever. The Rangers were one strike away from winning the World Series two innings in a row with two run leads to start each inning. Yet the ultimate in horrifying took place. Not only did they crumble to lose Game 6 in devastating fashion, the Rangers seemed to do the inevitable: lose Game 7 as well.
After such a Game 6 collapse, a Game 7 win seems as doomed as the Game 6 choke was shocking. But upon further review, something interesting happens. With the four most famous Game 6 collapses (that I can remember), the losing team went on to take an early lead in Game 7.
In the 2011 World Series, the Rangers shook off the loss to take a 2 run lead in the top of the first inning in game 7. But fate overcame their lead and the Cardinals won.
Now for the other three Game 6 collapses I remember. In 1986, the Boston Red Sox, up 3 games to 2 over the New York Mets, took a two run 10th inning lead. In the bottom of the frame, they got the first two outs before disaster struck. Three straight Mets singles scored a run and put the tying run at third. With two strikes, the Sox were one strike from winning the World Series. A game-tying wild pitch uncorked by Bob Stanley was the replacement. The third out then went through Bill Buckner's legs, completing the Game 6 catastrophe. But the Sox shed the pain and took an early 3-0 lead in Game 7 that lasted until the 6th inning before the Mets completed their comeback.
In the 2003 NLCS, the ever cursed Chicago Cubs held a 3 games to 2 lead over the wild-card expansion Florida Marlins. With their ace on the mound, the Cubbies took a 3 hit shutout into the 8th inning with a 3 run lead. Five outs from their first World Series in a million years, Cubs fan Steve Bartman interfered with Cubs outfielder Moises Alou's attempt to catch a foul ball at the wall. The Marlins answered with 8 runs, dashing the hopes for the evening, and no doubt for another several decades. But although the Cubs were the only one of these four teams to not score first in Game 7, they did score five unanswered runs to take an early 5-3 lead before the Marlins completed their comeback.
Now for the largest, latest collapse in baseball history. The 2002 San Francisco Giants were thrashing the Anaheim Angels (or whatever they were named back then) in Game 6, 5-0. Their ace was on the mound with a two-hit shutout in the 7th inning, just 8 outs away from their first World Championship in almost 50 years. A couple of singles brought a pitching change. A brain-freeze low-inside target given to a low-inside hitter resulted in a 3-run homer, cutting the lead to 5-3 before getting out of the inning. The 8th inning saw the best bullpen - and most overworked - melt down for another 3 runs to the surging Disneylanders after cutting the countdown to five outs away. Robb Nen's career ending arm blowout was the red carpet to the G-Men's crash and burn. In Game 7, the Giants scored first, early, but that didn't last as Livan Hernandez responded with a Psychology 101 mental breakdown case study, giving up four runs to eventually complete the flushdown.
[Note to whiny Cubs fans: Quit complaining that Dusty should have taken the pitcher out during Game 6. He DID take the pitcher out in Game 6...one year earlier, and look at the results!!! You were doomed either way.]
These Game 6 meltdowns seem to reveal that the teams could rebound, take the field the next day, and perform well enough to take the lead in Game 7. But the ultimate result is a less extreme come-from-ahead loss in Game 7.
[Update: I neglected to include the umpire induced Game 6 meltdown of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1985 World Series. Essentially two outs away from a Cards ring, Don Denkinger botched a call at first base that triggered a 2-run Royals game winning rally. The Redbirds were shutout the next day 11-0. I guess this shows my theory is only good from 1986 on.]