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Friday Five: Collapses and comebacks
It's been a fun week, hasn't it, what with both wild-card races drawing closer? Yet it also has served as a reminder:
In order to have one of those legendary, down-to-the-wire, regular-season finishes? It takes two to tango.
You need the remarkable surge from Team A. And you need the jaw-dropping slump or at least the significant slowdown, from Team B. Not one. Both.
For instance, the Red Sox have done their part to create a spectacular story, but the Rays haven't, not after dropping three of four to the Yankees. And out in St. Louis, the Mets executed a wacky rally to defeat the Cardinals, at a time when the Braves are begging Tony La Russa's bunch to jump into the playoff pool.
On the other side of the equation, the Angels have really picked it up over the past month, only to see the Rangers not relent. Although the Angels still have a slight chance in the AL wild-card race.
So when we actually get the comeback/collapse combo, we appreciate it. Here are my five favorites:
1) 1951: Giants (39-8 in final 47 games) over Dodgers (27-25 in final 52), erasing a 13-game deficit on August 11.
The Dodgers didn't play horribly in the final third of the '51 season as much as they slowed down. Whereas the Giants, perhaps benefiting from a sign-stealing system (or perhaps not), went off on a sick run.
For all that transpired in those final seven weeks or so, however, this gets top billing because of the way it concluded: Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round The World" off Ralph Branca to win the play-in series and send the Giants to the Fall Classic.
2) 1978 Yankees (53-21 in final 74 games) over Red Sox (42-39 in final 81 games), erasing a 14-game deficit on July 19.
Like number one, it produced a tie at the conclusion of regular-season action and an all-time classic play-in, highlighted by Bucky Dent's shocking, three-run, seventh-inning homer off Mike Torrez. This was just one game, as opposed to the three-game Dodgers-Giants series.
This also stands in because of the internal strife the Yankees withstood; Billy Martin was pushed out in July and was replaced by Bob Lemon, only to be announced as the manager of the 1980 Yankees less than a week later. Ca-ray-zee, that George Steinbrenner.
3) 2007 Phillies (13-4 in final 17 games) and Rockies (14-1 in final 15 games) over Mets (5-12 in final 17 games), erasing deficits of seven games on Sept. 12 and 7 1/2 games on Sept. 15, respectively.
Yes, the wild card can bring a traingle of suspense, if you will, and even now, I don't think a lot of people remember that tthe Mets' final downfall resulted just as much because of Colorado as because of Jimmy Rollins and Philadelphia. Even though the Rockies swept the Phillies in the first round of the playoffs and advanced to the World Series.
The poor Mets. They'll forever be remembered as the club that gagged, and I suppose they did, in a way, but not really how people think. If you look at the breakdown of how those guys hit in September in 2007, you'll see that, with the notable exception of Jose Reyes, everyone hit plenty. It was the pitching, not Carlos Beltran or David Wright or Carlos Delgado, that fell apart.
Yet as Rollins backed up his "Team to beat" proclamation with a terrific season that won him the NL MVP honor, and as the Rockies went on that insane run, the Mets affirmed their unwelcome place in baseball history.
4) 1964 Cardinals (9-3 in final 12 games) over Phillies (2-10 in final 12 games), erasing a 6 1/2-game deficit on Sept. 20.
Before the '07 Mets, these Phillies were known as kings of the mid-September swan dive. Most telling of their desperation? Manager Gene Mauch's decision to start future Hall of Famer (and U.S. Senator) Jim Bunning in four of the team's final nine games. Yeesh! I can't see, let's say, the Nationals deploying the same schedule with Stephen Strasburg.
5) 1995 Mariners (28-16 in final 44 games) and Yankees (25-6 in final 31 games) over Angels (18-31 in final 49 games), erasing deficits of 12 1/2 games on Aug. 20 and Aug. 28, respectively.
It was the first year of the wild card, so people didn't really have a grasp for how it would play out. It added to the pain for Angels fans, just as it would for the Mets in '07, that they saw both escape hatches, the division and the wild card, close.
This will be remembered most as the miracle run that saved baseball in Seattle. After the Mariners advanced to the ALCS (and lost to Cleveland), Seattleites voted to approve public funding for the terrific ballpark that turned out to be Safeco Field.