A large lead in early September is no reason to rest on your laurels. Just ask the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers. Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" powered the New York Giants past the Dodgers in one of baseball's most memorable moments, capping an epic surge by the Giants. Take a look at some of the other dramatic pennant race turnarounds.
Detroit spent 164 days in first place in 2009 and carried a three-game lead over Minnesota with four games to play. The Tigers soon found themselves forced to meet the Twins in a play-in game, which Minnesota won, leaving the Tigers out of the postseason.
1987 Toronto Blue Jays
After rallying for three runs in the bottom of the ninth for a 10-9 victory over Detroit on Sept. 26, the Blue Jays had a 3 1/2-game lead with seven to play. Shortstop Tony Fernandez, however, was out for the season with an injury, and injuries sidelined catcher Ernie Whitt and DH Fred McGriff for the final four games. The injuries played no small part in the Blue Jays losing the final seven games of the season, including four to Detroit. The Tigers clinched the AL pennant with a three-game sweep on the final weekend by scores of 4-3, 3-2 and 1-0.
The Dodgers had a four-game lead on the rival Giants with seven games to play in 1962. But LA was in the midst of losing 10 of its final 13 games. The Giants, meanwhile, won eight of their final 10, knocking the Dodgers off in a best-of-three play-in showdown to earn the NL pennant after the two teams finished tied after 162 games. The Dodgers even had a 4-2 lead going into the eighth inning of Game 3 of that playoff, but a worn-out bullpen couldn't hold it, and Dodgers manager Walter Alston wanted to use Don Drysdale in Game 1 of the World Series — so the well-rested right-hander never got into the decisive game.
The Pirates seemed in control of the NL pennant race when they held a seven-game lead on the Cubs on Sept. 1. However, the Bucs lost 16 of their final 28 — including being swept three games at Wrigley Field, allowing the Cubs to move into first place. The Cubs took over the top spot with a 6-5 win on Sept. 28 in a game that was about to be called because of darkness but ended when Gabby Hartnett connected for the “homer in the gloaming” off Mace Brown in the bottom of the ninth.
Angels fans still are haunted by 1995, when a 12-27 finish saw them blow an 11 1/2-game lead on Seattle, forcing the Angels to win the final five games of that season just to force a playoff game with Seattle, which the Mariners won.
2011 Atlanta Braves
With starters Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson sidelined by injuries, a young Atlanta team couldn't hold onto what was a 10 1/2 game wild-card lead over the Cardinals as of Aug. 25. The Braves were still up 8 1/2 on the Cards on Sept. 5. But St. Louis went into 2011's 162nd game 15-5 since Sept. 5, hitting .299. The Braves? They were 7-14 since Sept. 5, and 9-17 in September, joining Houston and Colorado as the only NL teams without a double-figure win total for the month. The Braves built their season around the quality pitching staff, but the ERA climbed to 4.25 in the final month while the team batting average slipped to .235. The most damaging time was a Sept. 9 to 11 visit to St. Louis in which the Cardinals swept a three-game series that pumped hope into St. Louis' postseason hopes. The Cards went on to win the World Series.
Getty ImagesScott Cunningham
Yes, the Brooklyn Dodgers of Duke Snider (sliding) blew a 13 1/2-game lead in the final weeks of the 1951 season, but that was more to do with the way the New York Giants played — they won 37 of the final 44, including 16 in a row at one point — than what the Dodgers didn’t do. Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" — a walkoff blast that inspired Giants play-by-play announcer Russ Hodges' call: "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" — was the nail in the Dodgers' coffins.
In 1969 the Amazin’ Mets rallied from a 9 1/2-game deficit on Aug. 14, but that was to the Cubs, the loveable losers, who went into a late-season fade that resulted in them actually finishing eight games out of first place. Al Weis (No. 6) was one of the Mets' unlikely heroes.
1978 Red Sox
In 1978 the Red Sox led the Yankees by 14 1/2 games in July and 7 1/2 games with 32 to play. But Boston had to win its final eight regular-season games to force a playoff with New York. With a young Dennis Eckersley (pictured) on the Sox staff, Boston did force the playoff, but Bucky Dent’s home run off Mike Torrez lifted the Yankees past Red Sox.
The 2007 Rockies won 14 of their final 15 regular-season games, including a dramatic, extra-inning play-in matchup with San Diego, en route to the NL wild card. That rally by the Rockies was a poster-boy moment for baseball’s effort to create Septembers to remember by adding a wild card in each league. The Rockies ultimately lost in the World Series to the Boston Red Sox.
In an epic meltdown dubbed "The Phillie Phold" of 1964, Philadelphia saw a 6 1/2-game lead evaporate with 12 games to play. Fans of the Fightin' Phils were ready for a World Series. Their team would have to lose pretty much every game to blow it. Then they did. Ten straight losses left them tied for second, a game behind the Cardinals. Dallas Green, a reliever on that team, remembers it vividly.
2011 Boston Red Sox
Even the cursed Red Sox had never before come close to the mess of 2011. They woke up on Sept. 1 in first place in the AL East, with a nine-game lead over third-place Tampa Bay. By season's end, the Red Sox had become the first team ever to blow a nine-game lead in September and fail to make the postseason. In 1964, St. Louis rallied from an 8 1/2-game deficit to Philadelphia to claim the NL pennant. The Red Sox lost 19 of 26 heading into game 162 of 2011, and had not won back-to-back games since an Aug. 27 doubleheader sweep of Oakland. Despite a $161 million payroll that ranked second to only the Yankees, the Red Sox couldn't put a competitive rotation on the mound in September. The seven starters who took the mound the final month of the season went a combined 4-13 with a 7.15 ERA. Reports that surfaced of pitchers enjoying beer and fried chicken in the clubhouse during games didn't help fans feel any better.