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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / The Grueling Truth's Top 10 Sports Lists / Top 10 Worst Pennant Race Collapses in MLB History

Top 10 Worst Pennant Race Collapses in MLB History

Worst collapses!
Publish Date: 05/08/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

Baseball season is upon us, so let’s start the year by looking at the most fantastic Pennant race collapses in history. If you have experienced it with your favourite team, you know there is no worse feeling for a fan than to watch your favourite team slowly blow a championship. Most of the teams on this list looked like sure winners at the start of September, and then the wheels fell off.


To qualify for this list, the collapse must be dramatic and at the finish line. You will not find the 1969 Cubs on this list as they completed their collapse by mid-september. The sad thing about Cubs fans is they will be upset that their collapse is not considered one of the worst ever.

10) 2011 Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox went 7-20 in September, saw the Yankees pass them, and went into the last day still having a small chance depending on the Yankees beating the wild card-leading Rays. The games started well as the Yanks went up 7-0 and the Red Sox, despite all their issues, had Jonathan Papelbon to close out the lowly Orioles in the bottom of the ninth.

And then the Rays came back and won on an Evan Longoria walk-off homer, and after a Robert Andino bloop single, the Red Sox season came crashing down.

Video: The Chicken & Beer Scandal: The Cautionary Tale of the 2011 Red Sox

The Chicken & Beer Scandal: The Cautionary Tale of the 2011 Red Sox

9) 2007 New York Mets

David Wright may have experienced one of his finest seasons ever when the Mets entered play on September 13th with a perfect record in the National League and an eight-game lead over the Phillies in the NL East. Jose Reyes had stolen 78 bases while Carlos Beltran hit 33 homers; their rotation included future Hall-of-Famers Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine who had recently won 10 of 12 games combined!

Early success would quickly fade for the Mets as they went on to lose 12 of 17 games during their final 17 contests, starting with being swept at Shea Stadium by Philadelphia before losing two series to the fourth-place Nationals within nine days and going 1-6 at home at year’s end.

New York entered Game 162 tied for first place with Philadelphia but could not beat an unimpressive Marlins team and consequently fell from first place – a first since May 15th when they weren’t.

Video: Marlins score seven in 1st against Mets in 2007 finale

Marlins score seven in 1st against Mets in 2007 finale

8) 2009 Detroit Tigers

The 2009 Detroit Tigers held first place in the American League Central for 142 days combined throughout the regular season.

With ace Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and surprise starter Rick Porcello, they were able to hold a three-game lead with four to play after Verlander beat the Minnesota Twins. So of course, the Tigers lost the next three games and had to pitch Verlander on short rest just to reach a one-game playoff with the Twins.

Porcello pitched beautifully in the one-game playoff, but Fernando Rodney gave up the winning run on an RBI single by Alexi Casilla. Little consolation to the Tigers that it was one of the greatest games in baseball history.

To make matters worse, the Tigers were the first to blow a 3-game lead with only four games remaining.

Video: 2009 AL Central Tiebreaker game highlights (Detroit Tigers vs Minnesota Twins)

2009 AL Central Tiebreaker game highlights (Detroit Tigers vs Minnesota Twins)

7) 1962 Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers again seemed ready to cruise to another pennant behind Koufax and Drysdale, but unexpectedly lost a four-game lead with ten games to go starting September 22. They lost eight of their next ten, including their last four and found themselves in another three-game playoff for the pennant.

No Bobby Thompson miracle this time, but this time the Giants found a way to score four runs in the top of the ninth to take a 6-4 lead (winning runs by Matty Alou and Willie Mays) and ultimately win.

Video: May 27, 1962 Dodgers vs. Phillies, Chavez Ravine, Los Angeles, California

May 27, 1962 Dodgers vs. Phillies, Chavez Ravine, Los Angeles, California

6) 1995 California Angels

On August 9, the Angels led both the Texas Rangers and Mariners by 11 games. After a very deep 18-31 slide, they found themselves in a tie with the Seattle Mariners, who went 30-19, causing a near flip-flop in the standings.

The one-game playoff still gave the Angels a chance, but it felt like they were going through the motions, losing 9-1 despite having their best pitcher (pictured above) Mark Langston on the mound.

Video: Randy Johnson K's Salmon to Win AL West in 1995

Randy Johnson K’s Salmon to Win AL West in 1995

5) 1993 San Francisco Giants

On July 22, they led the Atlanta Braves by ten games, but the Braves were in the midst of a 49-16 stretch that also saw them go 28-9 at one point. Combine that with the Giants stumbling to a 20-18 finish, and the recipe for failure was set.

The Giants won three in a row, then lost to the Dodgers, while the Braves won, making the Giants one game short. 103 wins, a third MVP from Barry Bonds, an excellent pitching staff led by John Burkett, Bill Swift, and super-closer Rod Beck, and the Giants were unable to capitalize and unfortunately sent home.

The 1993 Giants were maybe the greatest team not to make the playoffs. Bonds may never make the Hall of Fame, but he is on our all-time Steroid team!

Video: SF Giants vs LA Dodgers (10-3-1993)

SF Giants vs LA Dodgers (10-3-1993) “Dodgers Eliminate Giants Playoff Hopes Even After Winning 103”

4) 1987 Toronto Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays decided to keep it close all season, unlike most of the other teams on this list. The Blue Jays choke was done all in one week. Holding a 3.5-game lead with only seven to play.

The Blue Jays then lost the rest of their games and, like the Phillies in 1964, lost three directly to their closest competition, the Detroit Tigers. What made this one even worse was how they lost each game by only one run. The deciding game was an excruciating 1-0 loss in old Tiger Stadium.

Video: TORONTO BLUE JAYS collapse of 1987. 7 losses in a row to end season.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS collapse of 1987. 7 losses in a row to end season.

3) 1978 Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox, like many chokers, were cruising mid-season and led the division by a whopping 14 games, until the hated rival Yankees ran off a historic 52-21 run. Even though the Yankees were hot, the Red Sox essentially controlled their own destiny, and that they did, going on to “win” 24 of their next 52 and falling into a tie for first place.

Then the one-game playoff loss was made worse when light-hitting Bucky Dent hit a home run over the green monster to secure the victory and the A.L. East title for the Yankees. The Red Sox have a great history at Fenway Park.

Video: 14 Back (2018)

14 Back (2018)

 2) 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers

On August 11, 1951, the Los Angeles Dodgers held a large 13.5 game lead and appeared to be cruising towards the pennant. Then the New York Giants happened.

The Giants not only went 37-7 overall, but they won 16 in a row at one point, forcing a three-game playoff despite losing the last game (potential clinching) of the season 10-0.

After they split the first two games, the Giants rallied behind Bobby Thomson, who smacked a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to give the Giants a 5-4 victory.

The iconic Russ Hodges call will never be forgotten; check out our list of greatest baseball announcers of all time.

Video: Bobby Thompson Pennant Clinching Home Run (1951)

Bobby Thompson Pennant Clinching Home Run (1951)

1) 1964 Philadelphia Phillies

Keeping with teams going on massive losing streaks, the Phillies, up 6.5 games on Sept. 21, 1964, with 12 games to play, somehow lost ten straight, letting the St. Louis Cardinals steal the pennant.

The most embarrassing part is that the Phillies had three chances to deal the Cardinals a death blow, giving them a chance and the Cincinnati Reds in a three-team playoff. However, that never occurred because the Cardinals won the series to cap the worst collapse in Philadelphia history. The Phillies would not make the playoffs again until 12 years later.



Honorable Mentions

1938 Pittsburgh Pirates

On paper, the Pittsburgh Pirates were an underwhelming team; boasting no-name rotation players such as Lew Waner (35), Lloyd Waner (32) and only one legitimate star player – shortstop Arky Vaughan – at his peak. Yet they remained consistent, and played solid baseball for much of 1938 without significant breakdown – until September. At its beginning, Pittsburgh enjoyed a seven-game lead with 28 remaining to clinch its first National League pennant since 1927; unfortunately for them, though, Chicago Cubs quickly began winning and quickly reduced that lead.

Darkness fell upon the Pirates hopes–both literally and figuratively–in their final series of 2018, when they traveled to Chicago and got swept by the Cubs in three games, best remembered by Gabby Hartnett’s memorable “Homer in the Gloamin’,” which ended the second game under darkening skies at Wrigley Field.

1934 New York Giants

Giants fans were treated to talent like Bill Terry (who hit.354), Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell, who would go down as Hall-of-Famer legends; these guys helped the Giants capture first place in early June and keep it throughout September, building up as much as a seven-game lead before only 14 left to play; with such competition on hand from teams such as St Louis Cardinals led by Dizzy Dean (30 wins in 1929!) and his rookie brother Daffy; each time the Giants looked up at an out-of-town scoreboard they saw one of Dizzy Deans numbers posted there bringing them closer while pushing New York further backwards.

The Giants led their division with just five games remaining and had only themselves to blame for dropping four out of those contests–four at home against Philadelphia and Brooklyn–which meant their lead had shrunk from three to two. For Los Angeles Dodgers fan Bill Terry it was especially satisfying after mocking reporters before Opening Day by asking, “Brooklyn? Are they still in the league?”


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