Top Pennant Races
1904 American League
Before they were the Yankees and the Red Sox, the upstart American League's New York Highlanders and Boston Americans engaged in one of the first great pennant races of the modern era. From July 29 through the end of the season, no more than two games separated the burgeoning rivals, and the season came to a head when the two teams played five games against each other on the final weekend. New York took a half-game lead by winning Friday's contest behind spitballer Jack Chesbro (left), who picked up his record 41st win of the season, but with Hilltop Park rented out for a Columbia University football game, Saturday's doubleheader was relocated to Boston, where a gassed Chesbro lost the opener and Boston's Cy Young won the nightcap. With Sunday baseball verboten, Chesbro was again on the mound back in Manhattan on Monday, but the New York defense booted away a 2-0 lead and put the go-ahead run on third in the ninth, where it was able to score on a wild spitter from Chesbro that handed Boston the pennant.
1908 National League
The Cubs, Giants and Pirates were never separated by more than a game and a half over the final two weeks, resulting in another pennant race close enough to hinge on one tiny mistake. With two out in the bottom of the ninth of a 1-1 game between the Cubs and Giants on Sept. 23, shortstop Al Bridwell singled to drive in the apparent winning run for the Giants, but the runner on first base, 19-year-old first baseman Fred Merkle (inset), failed to touch second and was ruled out amid the rushing crowd, resulting in a tie that had to be replayed when the two teams finished the season tied a half game ahead of Pittsburgh. The Cubs won the rematch and the pennant thanks to Merkle's infamous "boner."
1934 National League
The Giants held a seven-game lead over the Cardinals on Sept. 6 but went 8-13 the rest of the way, while the Cardinals reeled off a 20-5 spurt to win the pennant by two games. Pitching brothers Dizzy and Paul Dean (far left) were the keys to the Cardinals' success, fittingly winning the final three games of the season for St. Louis: Dizzy tossed a pair of shutouts with just a day of rest in between, on which Paul threw a one-run complete game of his own. Meanwhile, after Giants' player/manager Bill Terry (near left) had asked if Brooklyn was "still in the league" prior to the season, it was the rival Dodgers that eliminated the Giants in the season's final two games.
1949 American League
From the third game of the season through the 148th, the Yankees stood alone atop the AL standings, but the Red Sox went 55-19 (.743) from July 5 through Sept. 21 to set up a final week in which the two teams played five of their final eight games against one another with the pennant on the line. The Red Sox took the first three to pull ahead by one game, but in the rematch at Yankee Stadium, New York tied things up with a 5-4 win in the season's penultimate game, then won the pennant on the final day as Vic Raschi survived a ninth-inning rally by the Sox to nail down a 5-3 complete game victory.
1951 National League
The Dodgers stood alone in first place from May 20 through Sept. 27, but the Giants, propelled by a 16-game winning streak in mid-August, went 37-7 (.841!) in their final 44 games to force a three-game playoff. The Giants took the opener behind a one-run complete game by Jim Hearn, but the Dodgers answered back, breaking the Giants' eight-game losing streak with a convincing 10-0 win behind a shutout by Clem Labine. The decisive third game was tied after seven innings, but the Dodgers scored three in the eighth and seemed on their way to the pennant until starter Don Newcombe ran into trouble in the ninth. When the tying run reached base with one out, Game 1 starter Ralph Branca was brought in to relieve Newcombe, and Bobby Thomson (pictured) deposited Branca's second pitch over the Polo Grounds' left-field wall to win the pennant for the upstart Giants.
1964 National League
In one of the most infamous collapses in baseball history, the Phillies led the NL by 6 1/2 games with 12 to play, but starting with a 1-0 loss to the Reds decided by a steal of home, they lost 10 straight to fall to third place behind the Reds and Cardinals. Entering the final day of the season, the Reds and Cards were tied, a game ahead of Philadelphia, with the Phillies in Cincinnati and the Cardinals in New York. Working on regular rest, Jim Bunning (inset), who had been beaten badly while pitching on short rest three times in September, shut out the Reds to pull his Phillies into a tie with Cincy, but in Queens the Cardinals, buoyed by four strong relief innings from Bob Gibson pitching on one day's rest, beat up the lowly Mets 11-5 to take the pennant.
1967 American League
On Aug. 13 the top five teams in the AL were separated by 2 1/2 games, and with three days left in the season the top four teams -- the Twins, Red Sox, Tigers and White Sox -- were within 1 1/2 games. On the penultimate day of the season, the White Sox, who had led the division from June 11 to Aug. 12, were eliminated when they were shut out by the expansion Senators' Frank Bertaina, the Tigers split a doubleheader with the Angels to end the day a half game out, and the Red Sox beat the visiting Twins 6-4 to pull into a first-place tie. On the final day, the Tigers split another doubleheader with California while the "Impossible Dream" Red Sox, behind a complete game by ace Jim Lonborg (pictured), beat the Twins again, 5-3, to win their first pennant since 1946.
1978 American League East
The Red Sox led the division by 10 games on July 5 and were still up by nine on Aug. 13. The second-place Yankees, under new manager Bob Lemon, then went 17-5 to set up the Boston Massacre, a four-game set at Fenway Park that the Yankees swept by a combined score of 42-9 to pull even atop the division. The Yankees moved ahead two days later, but Boston won its final eight to force a one-game playoff at Fenway. Making the final start of a legendary season, Ron Guidry gave up an early lead to Boston, but the Yankees again came back, thanks to a three-run, wind-blown, pop-fly home run over the Green Monster by slap-hitting shortstop Bucky Dent (pictured) in the seventh. Reggie Jackson added a solo homer in the eighth, and Goose Gossage got Carl Yastrzemski to pop out to strand the division-winning runs on base in the ninth.
1980 National League West
After a long, back-and-forth battle atop the NL West standings, the Dodgers faced the Astros for the final three games of the season trailing by three games. Behind 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth of the first game and facing elimination, the Dodgers caught a break when Astros defensive replacement Rafael Landestoy booted a ground ball, opening the door for a two-out, game-tying single by Ron Cey. L.A. then won on a leadoff home run in the bottom of the 10th by catcher Joe Ferguson (inset). The next day Jerry Reuss outdueled Nolan Ryan for a 2-1 Dodgers win. In the final game L.A. was behind 3-2 in the eighth when an Enos Cabell error set up a two-run home run by Cey that handed the Dodgers a division-tying sweep and forced a one-game playoff. L.A. had nothing left, however, as the Astros and Joe Niekro (pictured) beat them 7-1 to finally claim the franchise's first postseason berth.
1987 American League East
The Yankees held first place for the majority of the time between mid-May and early August, but an August swoon sent them toppling down the standings, leaving the Tigers and Blue Jays to do battle atop the division. When the Jays arrived at Tiger Stadium for the season's final three games, they held a one-game lead, but key waiver-trade pickup Doyle Alexander (9-0, 1.53 ERA) beat the Jays in the first game to knot the division. Game two saw a Jack Morris and Mike Flanagan duel to force extra innings, with Flanagan lasting 11 frames. After he left, the Tigers rallied and won on a bases-loaded single by Alan Trammell (pictured) to take a one-game lead with one game left. Frank Tanana and Jimmy Key both went the distance in the finale; the lone run came on a second-inning solo homer off Key by Tigers right fielder Larry Herndon, clinching the division for Detroit.
1993 National League West
The two-time defending NL champion Braves, featuring Ron Gant (far left), were 9 1/2 games behind the first-place Giants on Aug. 7 before going 26-5 (.839!), including wining five of six against San Francisco, to take over first place by Sept. 11. The Giants answered by going 14-2 to tie the division entering the final day of the season, but after Tom Glavine and the Braves beat the Rockies 5-3, the Giants, needing a win to force a playoff, fell apart, managing just one run against the Dodgers' Kevin Gross and losing 12-1 to their age-old rivals. In what was Barry Bonds' (near left) first season with the team, the Giants won 103 games but failed to make the playoffs (this was the final season before the introduction of the wild card).
1995 American League West
On Aug. 15 the California Angels led the West by 10 1/2 games, while the Seattle Mariners were in third place, 12 1/2 games back. The Angels then lost 27 of their next 35, including a pair of nine-game losing streaks, in one of the game's greatest collapses. The Mariners, who won 16 of 19 starting on Sept. 8, slipped into the division lead on Sept. 22. The Angels rallied late, winning their final five games, while the Mariners lost their last two to force a one-game playoff at the Kingdome. Randy Johnson and former Mariners ace Mark Langston locked horns for six innings, but with the bases loaded and two out in the seventh, light-hitting M's shortstop Luis Sojo hit a bases-clearing double off first baseman J.T. Snow's glove, and Langston's throwing error on the ensuing relay back to the plate allowed Sojo to score (left), breaking the game open and ultimately giving the Mariners their first postseason berth.
2007 National League
Perhaps the wildest pennant race of them all saw the Mets blow a seven-game lead in the East with 17 games left, and just one of the four NL playoff spots decided entering the final day of the regular season. On the final weekend the Cubs clinched the Central on Friday night, but entering Sunday's action nothing else had been settled. The Diamondbacks held a one-game lead in the West over the Padres, who led the Rockies and NL East co-leading Phillies and Mets by one game for the wild card. With only the Rockies and Diamondbacks playing each other, a possible four-way tie for the wild card loomed, but the Mets didn't cooperate. Tom Glavine, in the worst start of his Hall of Fame career, gave up seven runs before he could get a second out against the Marlins, and with the Phillies cruising to a 6-1 victory over the Nationals, the Mets were dead men walking the rest of the game.....
2007 National League (cont.)
With the Phillies having completed their comeback and claimed the East, the focus shifted to the West. The Rockies, who had been in fourth place in the wild card standings, 4 1/2 games out on Sept. 15, broke a 1-1 tie in the eighth to beat the Diamondbacks and pick up their 13th win in 14 games, leaving things in the hands of the Padres, who had a chance to eliminate the Rockies on Saturday afternoon, only to have the son of Padres great Tony Gwynn triple off future Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman to set-up a Brewers comeback. Given a second chance, the Padres lost 11-6 to force a one-game playoff for the wild card. That tie-breaker was a wild, see-saw battle that saw pitching triple crown winner Jake Peavy struggle and, after the Padres took an 8-6 lead in the top of the 13th, Hoffman blow another would-be clinching save by giving up two doubles and a triple to the first three men he faced. Two batters later Matt Holliday raced home on a sac fly by Jamey Carroll, sliding face-first into home plate just ahead of the tag from catcher Michael Barrett. Though no replay ever definitively proved that Holliday touched the plate, the Rockies won the wild card, then won another seven games in a row to win the franchise's first pennant.
2009 AL Central
Save for a single day on which they were tied with the White Sox, the Tigers held first place in the Central by themselves from May 16 until Oct. 2. The Twins, meanwhile, were seven games out on Sept. 6, but the Tigers lost 15 of their last 26 games and Minnesota won 16 of its final 20 to force a one-game playoff in the final regular-season baseball game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The Tigers took an early lead, but the Twins, who had lost a playoff for the division to the White Sox the year before, battled back, taking a one-run lead in the seventh, only to have the Tigers tie it up in the eighth. Both teams scored one run in the 10th, giving the impression that the division would never be decided, but the Twins finally settled the matter in the bottom of the 12th on singles by two of their worst hitters, center fielder Carlos Gomez and infielder Alexi Casilla, neither of whom had started the game.