Bill Buckner didn’t choke. He committed an error, nothing more. His error was costly, and Red Sox Nation had to wait nearly 20 years after that error before finally seeing a World Series championship. But it was still just a single error on a single play.
The Red Sox still had a full game AFTER that error to recover and win the series, but the better team ultimately prevailed.
As unfortunate as the 1986 World Series was for fans of the Boston Red Sox, they did not lose it because Buckner missed one single ground ball.
Now, a CHOKE in sports is something entirely different than that example. A choke does not hinge on one moment, especially in a seven-game series. When the same two teams are pitted against each other until one of them can win four games, one single play does not define a series.
If you want to talk about choking in the World Series, you need to look for a situation where the losing team had MULTIPLE opportunities to win, but ultimately failed – every time. A REAL choke in the World Series is one where a team REPEATEDLY sets itself up for success, only to stumble every single time.
As evidence, I submit to you the 1997 Cleveland Indians.
Just as hard luck a team as the Boston Red Sox, the Indians carried a lead into the bottom of the ninth in game seven of the 1997 World Series, and STILL lost to the Florida Marlins. Unlike the Red Sox, though, the Indians can’t point to a single unfortunate moment in the 1997 series and bemoan that as the reason their downfall. The entire series was LOADED with downfalls.
The Fall Classic of 1997 played out as a cavalcade of blown chances for the Indians. For starters, they held the lead in EVERY SINGLE GAME of the series. That’s right, the Cleveland Indians lost four times out of seven games, even though they held the lead in each game.
In game one, it was a four-run fourth inning that did the Tribe in, eventually losing that game 7-4.
In game three the Indians led 7-3 going into the sixth inning before giving up two runs in the sixth, and two more in the seventh. Still, they stood tied with the Marlins entering the ninth inning. During their half of the ninth the Indians even managed to score four runs, but it wasn’t enough. Why? Because they gave up seven to the Marlins, thanks to not one, but THREE costly errors. They lost 14-11.
In game five it was another four-run inning, this time in the sixth, which was the Indians’ undoing. They lost 8-7.
Still, despite all those FAILURES, the Indians somehow led in game seven – only three measly outs away from a World Series championship – when the team’s trusty closer, Jose Mesa, was walking to the mound.
Florida’s Moises Alou hit a single to lead off the inning… still no big deal, right?
Then Bobby Bonilla struck out… two outs away!
That was as close as the Indians would get. After Bonilla’s strike out, Charles Johnson singled, moving Alou over to third base. Then, Craig Counsell hit a sac-fly that scored the runner and tied the game. Two innings later, thanks to (surprise) ANOTHER error, the Marlins were celebrating a championship in only their fourth year of existence, while the Indians were sent home as losers.
In all, the Indians gave up TEN runs in the ninth inning or later, eight of which came off of FIVE errors. They led in all seven games of the series, including holding a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning in game seven. Yet, they still lost the Series.
Now THAT’S a choke!