For Every Winning Streak, A Losing One
In case there is any doubt, the world of sports does answer to the laws of physics. For every winning streak, there is an equal and opposite losing streak buried somewhere in the league.
In September of 2017, the Cleveland Indians entered one of baseball’s pantheons by surpassing the 2002 Oakland A’s 20-game winning stretch. They then proceeded to overtake the 1935 Chicago Cubs’ unprecedented run of 21 straight victories. The momentum ended at 22.
The long-gone 1916 New York Giants hold the all-time record for most matches won in a row at 26. However, that included a 1-1 tie against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 13th game, which was rained out after nine innings.
The euphoria felt by Cleveland fans and statistics gurus could only be equaled by the chagrin that befell Baltimore when the Orioles dropped their 21st consecutive ball game in 1988.
Manager Cal Ripken Sr., father of the Orioles’ 19x All-Star Cal Jr., was fired and replaced after a 0-6 start. In the end, the extended folly relegated the mid-Atlantic team to the 2nd longest losing streak in professional baseball.
The #1 spot on the notorious list belongs to the Philadelphia Phillies, who trudged through 23 uninterrupted losses in 1961 before finally shedding the curse by beating the Milwaukee Braves (photo above).
The team wrapped up their wretched season 47-107, or 46 games behind the NL champions Cincinnati Reds.
On the gridiron, Don Shula’s 1972 Miami Dolphins were the first football team in the post NFL-AFL merger to accomplish a perfect 14-0 season, in addition to a straight run for the Super Bowl. 35 years later, the 2007 New England Patriots laid claim to a 16-0 season but lost the championship to the New York Giants.
In a parallel but opposite universe, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the NFL’s most trampled franchise when they sunk to a 0-14 record in their 1976 inaugural season. In 5 of the 14 games, the newcomers never even scored.
While the Bucs were a first-year expansion team, the 2008 Detroit Lions were in their 79th season when they lost each of their 16 matches. The last time the Lions roared was in 1957 when they defeated the Cleveland Browns 59-14 at the NFL Championship.
On the basketball court, it seems as if Lebron James single-handedly balanced the universal order of gains & losses. His departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 plunged the franchise into a 26-game losing stretch, the worst in NBA history (tied with the 2013-14 76ers).
Two seasons later, Lebron led his newly-adopted Miami Heat to a 27-game winning streak, the 2nd highest in league history and behind Wilt Chamberlin’s Los Angeles Lakers, who posted the all-time record of 33 in 1972-73.
On the back of Patrick Lemieux, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had already won the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992, went on to claim the NHL record of 17 consecutive victories in 1993. That year saw the young San Jose Sharks collapse to the same number of uninterrupted losses.
The Sharks, along with the 1974-75 Washington Capitals, are tied for the dubious distinction of running the NHL's longest stretch of underperforming games at 17 each.
Real or unreal, scientific or just uncanny, sports are part of a balance in the universe.
BASEBALL June 25, 2008 Fresno State takes the College World Series, defeating the University of Georgia 2-1 in the series. 64 colleges entered the NCAA Division I tournament. Ranked #4 in their region and considered a ‘Cinderella’ team throughout the competition, Fresno State became the lowest seeded school in any NCAA sport to eventually win the title.
GOLF June 21, 1998 Lee Janzen wins the US Open, shooting an even 280 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Janzen was just one stroke ahead of runner-up Payne Stewart, who would win the following year’s event but then die in a plane crash four months later. It was Janzen's second and final career major after capturing his first at the 1993 Open.
BASKETBALL June 21, 1988 The LA Lakers beat the Detroit Piston 4-3 for the NBA championship. It was the second consecutive victory for the West Coast team and the 11th overall for the franchise. Small forward James Worthy picked up the MVP award, scoring 36 points in the pivotal Game 7, which saw LA win by just a 3-point margin (108-105).
SOCCER June 25, 1978 Argentina defeats Netherlands 3-1 in overtime at the FIFA World Cup. It was the first title for the South American national team, which would go on to win its second and last Cup championship in 1986. Striker Mario Kempes placed two goals at the Final, earning the tournament’s Golden Shoe Award as the highest scorer.