25 Ways to Lose

Through his years as a Cubs' fan, our staffer Pete Khazen has had plenty of opportunity to experience and categorize losses of every shape and form. Here in late August with the Cardinals precariously hanging onto a slim divisional lead, Khazen graciously shares his findings with the Cardinal Nation. How many can you recognize?

There are countless ways to lose a game. The following scenarios are 25 ways that teams have lost games, often playoff contests. If you were on the wrong end of the final score of a huge game (as if every game isn't huge), what would be your most nightmarish way to lose? And if you had to lose, which method would be your choice by which to go down respectfully?


I've ranked these scenarios on a scale from 1 to 25 according to my personal preference. Number 1 is the type of loss that would trigger recurring nightmares and patterns of self-destructive behavior. Number 25 is the scenario where you'll be able to go on living life knowing that tomorrow is another day and you can hold your head up high because you did your best.


If you're up for it, rank them as you see fit, and compare rankings with your buddies. Keep in mind that for some of you, this will resurrect some ugly memories. So if you're still in therapy dealing with some traumatic loss your team experienced, proceed with caution.


25. The perfect game

Your team couldn't do anything to get on base. Not one runner. No hits. No walks. Not even a stinkin' error. Their pitcher and their defense played a perfect game, and there's nothing you could do to keep it from unfolding. You just sit there and watch as the other club puts on a clinic, and realize the rare occasion that you're bearing witness to.


      24.The classic matchup, with an effective ending

The game is on the line. It's your best pitcher against their best hitter. Yes, it's Mariano Rivera against Luis Gonzalez, with a captivated, emotional, terror-stricken, and recovering country watching the events of the nation's greatest pastime unfold. Your closer is as dependable as they come, a downright dominating force that never seems to miss a beat. And their hitter gets the best of him. He doesn't wallop a mammoth home run. Instead he hits an effective, game-winning, looping liner for a walk-off RBI single. You reach out your own arm thinking the ball is within reach. It hangs up there so long that you find it impossible that no one on the field managed to get to it. But there's nothing anyone can do. It falls harmlessly to the cool grass in the outfield, and your eyelids instantaneously close shut in disbelief.


23. The marathon game with the anticlimactic ending

These are more common than you'd think. Two clubs could battle it out in one of the most exciting games of the year and somehow go to extra innings. Then it becomes a snoozer that drifts late into the night and the wee hours of the next morning. A long sequence of three-up and three-down half innings fly by as managers empty their benches and their bullpens. Pitchers are used as pinch-hitters and baserunners. And after the fight is just about squeezed out of both teams, your club manages to find a way to lose on walk, a sacrifice bunt, and a bloop single. No excitement at all. Though the winning team is happy to pick up the W, both teams and their fans are just thrilled the game is finally over and everyone can get to bed.


22. A valiant comeback falls short

Your team goes down big early. They bite, kick, and scratch their way back into the game. They even have runners on in scoring position in the their final half inning of the game. Alas, they can't get that tying run home and lose by one stinkin' run. Too little, too late.


21. The record-breaking defeat

No one likes losing. No one likes losing in any way that makes history. So when you manage to have your team included in the record books because they were on the losing end of some record-shattering performance, it's just not good. From trivia questions on game shows to almanacs, those constant reminders of an event you'd like to forget just stink. You think Rockies fans like hearing this:


"Alex, I'll take Baseball Records for $1000"


"On August 18, 1995 the Colorado Rockies lost by a record-setting score of 26-7 to this team"


"Who are the Chicago Cubs?"


20. The web gem

The ball is in play. Your star hitter just launched a deep ball that could tie or win the game. Instead some pesky outfielder makes some ridiculous game-saving play, robbing an extra-base hit, perhaps even bringing a home run back into the park. It's not always a play in the outfield though. Sometimes it's a dramatic play at home plate. And few are as memorable as the Derek Jeter "Flip". Down two games to none in the best of five series and the Yankees up 1-0 in the game, Oakland Athletic Jeremy Giambi was on his way home with the tying run following a Terrence Long double. The throw to the plate was way off line, but somehow Jeter snagged it and did a backhand flip to Jorge Posada all in one motion. Giambi thought he'd score standing up with no problem, but Posada laid the tag on him and the Yanks marched on to victory.


19. The classic matchup, with a mammoth ending

The game is on the line. It's your best pitcher against their best hitter. Yes, it's Brad Lidge versus Albert Pujols. The sweet taste of victory is kicking those salivary glands into high gear. That is until Pujols launches a rocket halfway to the moon. And when I say rocket, I mean rocket. You know it's gone immediately, but you can't just lower your head. Instead your body reacts, and you instinctly watch like a child mesmerized by a space shuttle launch. You can't take your eyes off the majestic projectile as it screams into orbit, getting smaller by the second as it fades into the night sky. And when it finally collides with something deep in outer space, you realize it's over... the game and the show. Except that sweet taste of victory has gone bitter with defeat.


18. The blowout

Nothing fancy here. Just a shellacking. The other team scores so often, you wish the game would end after the second inning. But it doesn't. It goes on and on and on and on. To the tune of a 15-1 score. You might sit through it all. You might turn your attention elsewhere, but you keep checking back hoping for a comeback. But it never happens, and the score only gets worse with each time you check it.


17. The suicide squeeze

There might not be a more exciting play in baseball. But when you lose on it, you feel like you need to rip your hair out. Didn't they see it coming? Not just the players, but what about the coach? Couldn't they have called for a pitch-out? You know the drill.


16. Stealing home

This is about as rare a single play as there is in baseball. That is without throwing in goofy factors like "on the road", "in the rain", "during night games". And it might be as exciting, if not more exciting than the suicide squeeze play. The same reaction applies. Didn't they see it coming? I mean, come on, it happened like it was in slow motion.


15. The no-namer comes up clutch

We've seen this one plenty of times, particularly on the big stage in October, almost to the point where we've now come to expect it. Some guy comes to the plate that you've never heard of and gets the game-winning hit. It's not always the star player on the team with the huge contract that comes through in clutch situations. That's part of what makes baseball so special. It is a team sport, no doubt. Remember Francisco Cabrera? He was the no-namer who came to the plate with the Braves down one run in the seventh and deciding game of the 1992 National League Championship Series. With two outs in the ninth inning, he lined a base hit into left field to then Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder Barry Bonds. Dave Justice scored the tying run and Sid Bream chugged his way home and beat Bonds' throw to clinch the NL pennant and put Cabrera's name on the map.


14. The little guy goes yard

You know how this one goes. Your club is up a run in the ninth inning. Someone from the opposing team reaches base, but your pitching staff manages to get their two big hitters out. The home run threats are gone. In fact, as the scrawny second baseman steps to the plate, those fabulous guys in the television broadcast truck throw up the stat indicating that the batter has just one home run in some 1,500 at-bats. And before they pull the stat off the screen, the little guy goes yaka. Your club loses. Make that two home runs in 1,501 at-bats, fellas. Thanks for putting that stat up there.


13. The dramatic pinch-hit, walk-off homer

The game is on the line. You're winning, and some gimpy, decent power hitter steps to the plate after getting the pinch-hit call from the skipper. Yes, it's Kirk Gibson. He can't even run the bases. A home run is the only option, and... Wham! Game over! He hobbles around the bases pumping his fist as the home crowd goes ballistic.


12. The ex-teammate

This is one that seems to happen a lot. A team decides to give up on a player or deal him away in some trade. Oftentimes those players step their game up a notch when their old teammates are in the opposing dugout. You know they're thinking they want to take full advantage or reminding everyone associated with their former team of the mistake made when they were given their walking papers. And as a fan, this one is really tough to swallow when you didn't agree with the transaction your club's front office made. You better believe that whenever Lou Brock beat the Cubs, the Chicago front office and all of Cub Nation were kicking themselves.


11. The villain

Sometimes there is someone playing for the other team that just makes your skin crawl. He might be that annoying trash-talking loud-mouth, or he might be that phenomenal player who everyone thinks is cheating somehow but no one can seem to prove it. Regardless, when this player steps to the plate with the game on the line and knocks a game-winning hit, it's just frustrating beyond all hell knowing that he was the one that beat you. And now he's basking in his glory.


10. The no-hitter loss

Your team and your pitcher are having a heck of a day. History is about to be made. It's not a perfect game brewing, but your stud on the mound has a no-no going in the late innings. But your offense isn't exactly getting the job done. You're only up 1-0. And then it falls apart. After a walk and a couple errors your team is down 2-1, yet the other club still has a goose-egg in the hits column. You go on to lose the game.


9.     The forfeit

These are rare today, but back in the day they weren't. Most recently, forfeits have been attributed to ballpark promotions gone awry. The most recent was at Dodger Stadium in 1995, when baseballs were given as souvenirs to fans when the Dodgers were hosting the Cardinals. When Raul Mondesi was called out on strikes in the bottom of the ninth with the Cards winning 2-1, he got into a fight with the ump. Eventually he and manager Tommy Lasorda were ejected. And as baseballs came showering down with officials unable to keep the field of play safe, a forfeit was declared and the Dodgers suffered the embarrassing loss.


8.     The intentional walk that was never called

This is that instance where the opposing team's best hitter is walking to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning. He already has two home runs in the game and five RBI. The game is tied at six. You're screaming at the top of your lungs for the intentional walk. But it doesn't get called. Your club decides to man-up and pitch to the super-slugger. And he mashes a walk-off home run deep to right center field. Game Over! You scream, "I told you we should have walked him!"


7.     Blowing the big lead

This one is simple. Your club is up big time; so big that you even turn the game off or leave the stadium early. Then when you're sitting at home watching some news program you find out your beloved team managed to blow that nine-run lead. What a slap in the face that is? At least you didn't have to watch it, right?


6.     The intentional walk backfires

Just ask the Cardinals what they think of Benito Santiago. In the 2002 National League Championship Series the Cards decided to intentionally walk Barry Bonds time and time again. It made sense too. Bonds had very little protection in the lineup. While Santiago was a decent hitter, he was the obvious choice to take on when faced with the prospect of pitching to Bonds. And when the Cards pitched to Santiago, he killed them hitting two huge home runs after intentional walks were issued to Bonds.


5.     The bad call

Come on, Blue? What's the deal? Do you have pigeon bleep in your eyes? Were you not paying attention? Did you forget your glasses? You want mine? Were you absent the day they taught the rules of baseball at umpiring school? Cardinals fans know what this one feels like, and Kansas City Royals fans know what it's like to be on the right side of a bad call. In Game Six of the 1985 World Series with the Cards up 1-0 on the brink of being World Champions, infamous umpire Don Denkinger made a bad call at first base that gave the Royals a big opportunity in the bottom of the ninth inning. They took advantage and came back to win the game 2-1. Simply put, when the umpires become the story in a big game, it's just not good for anyone.


4.     The crucial error

Not just one that set up the winning run to score, but the actual play that let the winning run score. Yes, it's Bill Buckner. The slow roller is approaching, and it goes right through the wickets. Like a slow goalie in hockey who didn't see it coming. Unfortunately, your guy saw it coming. Game over! A complete 180-degree play. Your guy makes that play at least 99 out of 100 times. The scriptwriters were done and, low and behold, someone decided to change the ending to include a hulking surprise.


3.     A walk-off walk

This one can be combined with an intentional walk blowup for a truly head-pounding evening. The old adage is true: You can't defend a walk. And when there's no bases open and the game is on the line, a walk is a painful way to lose. There's little glory in it for the hitter that took the free pass and token, game-winning RBI, but it's effective. And it's demoralizing to the other team, especially their pitcher. For it to happen after intentionally walking the bases loaded is about as low as you can get.


2.     The wild pitch

OK, a passed ball is equally effective and disheartening. But losing on a wild pitch can just give managers and fans fits. And if it were a walk-off wild pitch, well that would definitely rub salt in the wound. Thank goodness this hasn't happened in recent history in a pivotal game. Is it overdue to rear its ugly head?


1.     The domino catastrophe

Some bizarre event triggers a catastrophic team and fan meltdown. Yes, it's the Steve Bartman incident. Everything was going just right, and then the baseball gods decided to take it all away. But rather than some typical baseball play resulting in your team's loss one very strange event triggers a series of baseball plays that result in the loss. The play is so strange when it transpired that all those present knew the ill fate that was looming. They were then forced to watch the dominos fall, mystified as they collided into one another. For some teams this "strange play" can be a bad bounce off the wall, a screwball play in the field, a fight in the bullpen, you name it. As those dominos begin to fall, there's absolutely nothing that can be done to keep the ones at the end of the line from falling too. And when the final domino fell you realized it was Game Over! Oh, the pain! To have a sequence of events like that haunt you over and over again is about as bad as it comes. Just ask Dusty Baker.


Got something to say? Sound off on our discussion board or send an email to pete@petekhazen.com

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