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9 Most Epic Collapses In MLB History
If you’re a baseball fan, then you are probably aware that the Boston Red Sox are hanging on for dear life in the American League Wild Card standings. On September 1, Boston was 8 ½ games ahead of Tampa Bay. Today, their lead over the Rays is just 1 lousy game. But Boston is not the only team on the verge of an epic late-season collapse. The Atlanta Braves also had an 8 ½ game lead in the National League Wild Card standings on September 1, and they too have choked big time to allow the St. Louis Cardinals to get within a single game.
Needless to say, the last three games of the 2011 regular season are going to be pretty intense. The Rays and Cardinals will be trying their damnedest to complete historic (and valiant) comebacks. Unfortunately, if they do succeed, no one outside Tampa Bay or St. Louis will be talking about their “achievements.” Instead, the headlines will be all about the failures of Boston and Atlanta.
In honor of these potentially historic 12 games to be played over the next three days (Boston at Baltimore, Tampa hosting New York, Atlanta hosting Philadelphia, and St. Louis at Houston), here’s a list of the 9 most epic late-season collapses in the history of Major League Baseball. Sadly for fans of Boston and Atlanta, if either one of them ends up out of the playoff picture come Wednesday night, this list will have to be adjusted.
9. 1978 Red Sox
In July of 1978, Boston had a 12 game lead over their most hated rivals, the New York Yankees. However, the Yankees chipped away at this lead and were only 4 games back at the start of play on September 7. That still gave the Red Sox pretty good odds of winning the division. But then the Yankees swept a four game series at Fenway from September 7-10, outscoring the Sox 42-9 in what would become known to Red Sox Nation as “the Boston Massacre.” Boston managed to hang on to this tie for the rest of the season, but lost a one-game tie-breaker to New York. (The Yankees then went on to win their second World Series in a row.)
8. 1938 Pittsburgh Pirates
The 1938 Pirates led the Chicago Cubs by 7 games on September 4. Their odds of making the playoffs at that point (with only 25 games left) were ridiculously high. Then they won only 12 of those last 25 games. Meanwhile, the Cubs won 20 of their last 26 games and their last 10 in a row (which included a three game sweep of the Pirates, of course) to win the pennant by 2 games. As you know, the Pirates haven’t been to the playoffs since.
Okay, just kidding. But it feels like it, right Pirates fans?
7. 1934 New York Giants
The 1934 New York Giants were the first ever team to miss the playoffs* after taking a 7 game lead into September. Of course, like so many “choke artists” on this list, the Giants didn’t play that poorly, going .500 for September. Instead, the bigger problem was that the “Gas House Gang” St. Louis Cardinals (led by Dizzy Dean, Pepper Martin and Leo Durocher) finished the season 33-12.
*Back then there were no League Championship Series. If you finished first, you won the pennant and proceeded directly to the World Series.
6. 1969 Chicago Cubs
The Cubs led the Mets by 9 ½ games in the National League East division on August 14. That’s a sizeable lead, for sure, but making the playoffs was no sure thing. If the Cubs had merely lost the division to the Mets that year by a game or two, they probably wouldn’t be on this list. So what, then, makes the Cubs’ collapse in 1969 so epic?
They lost the division by 8 games! That’s a 17 ½ game swing in under two months.
Legend has it the Cubs downfall was brought about by a black cat. Said feline found his way onto the field at Shea Stadium during a pivotal series between the Cubs and Met and crossed paths Cubs legend Ron Santo.
Only the Cubs, right?
But wait, it gets so much worse!
They had a 3 game lead over the Twinkies with only 4 games left to play. All they had to do was win 2 of 4 to guarantee the division title regardless of what Minnesota did. Meanwhile, if they won only 1 of the remaining 4 games, Minnesota would still have had to win their last 4 in a row. Ridiculous odds.
So what happened? The Tigers went 1-3 while the Twins went 4-0, leaving the two tied for first place. The Tigers completed their epic collapse by losing a heartbreaking one-game tie-breaker to the Twins 6-5 in 12 innings.
4. 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers
You’ve heard of the “shot heard ’round the world,” right? You know, the home run with the famous call, “the Giants win the Pennant! The Giants win the Pennant! The Giants win the Pennant!”?
Well, that 1951 home was the exclamation point on an insane comeback by the New York Giants and a horrible collapse by the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers held a lead of 13 ½ games on August 11, but the Giants went an improbable 37-7 (including 16 wins in a row) down the stretch to pull into a tie with the Dodgers. Then they won a three-game playoff against Brooklyn on Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard ’round the world”—pure ecstasy for New York, loathsome agony for Brooklyn.
Oh, look, here’s the video:
Done deal, right?
Well no, obviously. The Mets went 5-12 in their final 17 games, including a 1-6 homestand against the Nationals, Cardinals, and Marlins to finish the season. If they had won just one more of those last 7 games against bad teams, they would have at least finished in a tie with Philadelphia. Instead they finished 1 game back.
2. 1964 Philadelphia Phillies
Speaking of Philadelphia, the 1964 Phillies choked so bad that it’s a miracle they aren’t #1 on this list. They led the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds by 6 ½ games with only 12 to play. With those odds, even the Kansas City Royals could make the playoffs. But you know what ruins good odds? Losing 10 games in a row. Which is precisely what the Phillies did. The Cardinals, meanwhile, went 9-3 to steal the NL East crown.
Interesting Trivia: if the Cardinals had lost on the final day of the season, there would have been an unprecedented 3-way tie for first between Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. Figuring out how to break that tie would have been a pretty big headache.
1. 1995 California Angels
On August 9, the Angels had an 11 game lead over the Texas Rangers. At the start of the day on August 21, they still led the Rangers in the AL West by 9 ½ games, and they led the Yankees in the Wild Card standings by 12. From there, “down hill” doesn’t even begin to describe the Angels. “Off a cliff” is more apt.
California went 12-26 to close out the season. The Mariners, however, went on a 26-13 tear to win the AL West.
But that’s okay, they still had the AL Wild Card, right? Wrong. The Yankees also went 26-13 down the stretch to snatch the wild card from the hapless Halos.
The odds these three things happening—the Angels going 12-16, and both the M’s and the Yanks going 26-13—were 8,332-1.
Biggest. Collapse. Ever.