They blew it

STEPHEN RIPLEY

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

This time of year always reminds me of the old fable about the hare and the tortoise.

As baseball's regular season winds down, the teams who months earlier had dashed out to big leads are desperately trying to hold off those who didn't get hot until later in the year. Inevitably, one or two of the jackrabbits end up pulling a hamstring down the stretch, only to watch the tortoise trudge past them into the postseason.

This year, it looks like the Boston Red Sox might be able to stay ahead of the hard-charging Yankees, but over in the National League, the Milwaukee Brewers might not be so lucky. If either one of those teams ends up missing the playoffs, they can probably add their names to this list.

10. 2005 CLEVELAND INDIANS

In the waning weeks of the 2005 season, it looked like Cleveland was going to play the tortoise to Chicago's hare, having whittled a 15-game margin down to a mere 11/2. But not only did the Tribe fail to catch the White Sox, they squandered a seemingly insurmountable lead in the wild-card standings, dropping six of their last seven games and watching the Red Sox blow past them into the playoffs.

9. 1978 BOSTON RED SOX

This infamous collapse is a little overrated, thanks in part to the way the Sox lost the pennant to the New York Yankees -- on light-hitting Bucky Dent's homer in a one-game playoff. The Sox had a 71/2-game lead with 32 games to play, but then fell into a huge slump in September. Still, they nearly salvaged the season by winning their final eight games.

8. 1989 NEW YORK YANKEES

Led by triple-crown winner Clu Haywood, the Bronx Bombers sprinted out to a big lead over the Cleveland Indians in the 1989 film Major League. But despite the fact that some of them seemed barely able to swing a bat (hello, Corbin Bernsen), the Tribe came back to force a one-game playoff, which they won on a surprise bunt by the guy who shot Willem Dafoe in Platoon.

7. 1969 CHICAGO CUBS

Baseball's feel-good story of 1969 was the play of the Amazin' New York Mets, who emerged from seven years as lovable losers to win the World Series. The feel-bad story was the collapse of the Cubs, whose brutal play turned a 91/2-game, mid-August lead over the Mets into a whopping eight-game deficit by the end of the season.

6. 1934 NEW YORK GIANTS

The St. Louis Cardinals spotted the Giants a seven-game lead heading into September and then proceeded to go 33-12 the rest of the way, winning the pennant by two games. Analyzing the schedules and opponents of each team down the stretch, sabermetrician Clay Davenport has pinned the likelihood of New York reaching the playoffs at 98.8% ... making their collapse statistically the third-worst of all time.

5. 1987 TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Toronto earned the nickname "Blow" Jays by dropping their final seven games and squandering a 31/2-game lead with a week to play in the season. The Detroit Tigers roared into the playoffs on the strength of a three-game, final-weekend sweep of the Jays, winning all three by a single run.

4. 1995 CALIFORNIA ANGELS

At one time down the stretch, the Angels had a 99.9% chance of making playoffs, making this the No. 1 nosedive in Davenport's statistical analysis. They had a 13-game lead in August, but then endured a 7-27 skid before winning their final five games to force a one-game playoff against the Seattle Mariners. In that game, Randy Johnson tossed a three-hitter to seal California's miserable fate.

3. 1964 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Holding a 61/2-game lead with 12 to play, the Phillies were already printing World Series tickets when they began a 10-game losing streak that saw the St. Louis Cardinals fly past them in the National League standings. In a desperate bid to stop the bleeding, manager Gene Mauch twice started aces Jim Bunning and Chris Short on two days rest, but the Phils lost all four games. Despite winning their last two games, the Phillies finished a game back at season's end.

2. 1951 BROOKLYN DODGERS

Already known to their frustrated fans as "Dem Bums," the Dodgers cemented their underachiever image in 1951 by blowing a 131/2-game lead over their sworn enemies, the New York Giants. They didn't exactly collapse, going 26-22 down the stretch, but they couldn't hold off the Giants, who finished 37-7 to force a three-game playoff for the pennant. With a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning of the decisive contest, Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca gave up a three-run, walk-off home run to Giants third baseman Bobby Thompson, a blast that became known as the "shot heard 'round the world."

1. 2004 NEW YORK YANKEES

After compiling the best record in baseball and beating the Minnesota Twins in divisional play, the Evil Empire completely overwhelmed the Red Sox in the first three games of the ALCS. But leading 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4, dominant Yankees closer Mariano Rivera gave up the tying run and Boston went to win the game in extra innings. Three more Sox victories later, and the Yankees had become the first team in baseball history to lose a seven-game series after winning the first three games.


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