The 1964 Phillies. The 1978 Red Sox. The 1995 Angels. The 2007 Mets. All four teams embarked on one of the worst September collapses in the history of Major League Baseball, missing the postseason on the final day of the regular season.
Add two new names to the list: the 2011 Braves and the 2011 Red Sox.
Just three weeks ago, the Braves and Red Sox led their respective wild-card races by a seemingly insurmountable margin. And then everything fell apart, as the Braves saw a 10.5 game lead on August 25th dwindle away to nothing.
Because of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 8-0 shutout victory over the Houston Astros earlier Wednesday (marked by Chris Carpenter’s two-hit, 11-strikeout complete game gem), the Braves needed a victory against the Phillies to force a one-game playoff on Thursday.
The Phillies trailed 3-2 entering the ninth but scratched out a run against National League Rookie of the Year candidate Craig Kimbrel, forcing extra innings. In the top of the 13th, Hunter Pence beat out an infield single with runners on first and third, plating the Phillies with a 4-3 lead. David Herndon closed out the Braves in the bottom of the inning, much to the dismay of the crowd at Turner Field.
The Cardinals won 23 of their final 31 games and will travel to Philadelphia for the first game of the National League Division Series on Saturday.
In the American League, it was the Red Sox who led the Tampa Bay Rays by 9.5 games entering the month of September.
The Red Sox promptly lost 18 of their next 23 games and entered the final day of the season tied with the Red Sox for the wild-card lead.
The Red Sox played in Baltimore, while the Rays hosted the New York Yankees.
The Orioles trailed 3-2 entering the bottom of the ninth, and the Red Sox sent closer Jonathan Papelbon to the mound to close out the game. Papelbon recorded two outs and it seemed to be a virtual lock that the Red Sox would force at least a one-game playoff.
But Chris Davis laced a two-strike double to right field and Nolan Reimold doubled to right-center to score pinch-runner Kyle Hudson, tying the game at three. Incredibly, Robert Ardino completed the comeback with a line drive to left field that prized free agent Carl Crawford couldn’t hold on to, scoring Reimold and capping the improbable comeback.
Meanwhile, over in New York, Tampa Bay starter David Price turned in a brutal performance, surrendering four first-inning runs to put the Rays in an early hole.
It got worse, and the Rays trailed 7-0 entering the bottom of the eight. But incredibly, they rallied, and scored six to cut the deficit to one, highlighted by a three-run homer from Evan Longoria.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Rays used a dramatic two-out, two-strike pinch-hit home run by Dan Johnson (.108 batting average) to tie the game at seven and force extra innings. Johnson’s home run is arguably the greatest pinch-hit home run in regular season history.
The Rays escaped a two on, no out jam in the top of the 12th, and in the bottom of the 12th, Longoria lined a shot to left field that barely cleared the 315-foot marker, winning the game and clinching an unlikely postseason berth for the Rays.
Longoria’s home run came just three minutes after the Orioles walked off against the Red Sox, and capped off arguably the most exciting season finale in the history of Major League Baseball.
For the Cardinals, they trailed by 10.5 games just a month ago and needed a blown save by the Braves to clinch the wild-card race without a one-game playoff.
And for the Rays, they trailed by 9.5 games three weeks ago. They trailed by seven runs in the eighth inning of game number 162. They were a single strike away from elimination. And they won in 12 innings.
In the postseason, the Rays will travel to Texas in the ALDS, while the Yankees will host the Detroit Tigers. The Phillies will host the Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers will host the Arizona Diamondbacks.