Dr. X posts this from Cooperstown, NY
"Yes, cricket is a strange game. It is true that a test match
can drag on for five days...and end in a tie
. But this is small beer when compared with baseball. It doesn't always work this way, but when a major league pennant race gets into full swing, no other sport can compete. The action spreads out over weeks or even months, and intensifies in the last week or so as leaders collapse, upstarts surge ahead, and one crazy bounce of the ball determines the fate of a team that played its first regular season game in early April.
"Let me give you three examples - you can watch them using this terrific viewer
is what the Internet is all about) - just load them up and play/pause your way through.
"1908, National League. By the 4th of July there are only three teams with a realistic chance to win: the Chicago Cubs (.621 winning pct), the Pittsburgh Pirates (.609, 1/2 a game back), and the New York Giants (.594, 1 and 1/2 games back). They play through that long, hot summer - all day games in wool uniforms - and on September 1st the Giants and Pirates are tied for first, with the Cubs one game back. On September 23rd we go into the twilight zone, and Fred Merkle becomes the most hated man in New York
. On October 1st they are in a three-way tie for first place
. At this point, it doesn't matter if you just got off the boat from Slovokia, every male citizen of those three cities is following the action. The Cubs win the re-play of Merkle's mistake, take the pennant race by one game over the Giants, and go on to win the World Series. (That was the last
World Series the Cubs have won, by the way.)
"Then you have your epic collapses. 1978, American League East, for example. On the 4th of July the Boston Red Sox are running away with the division. They've lost just 24 games, while their closest pursuers (the NY Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers) have each lost 34. Boston holds off a late summer charge by the Yankees, and on August 25th they're still 7 1/2 games ahead. But then, the Boston Massacre - the Yankees wipe out the Sox in a series, and keep winning - in less than two weeks, they've closed the gap and tied for first. Boston keeps choking, and falls out of first place, but then mounts a last-minute comeback, tying the Yankees on the final day of the season. That sets the stage for a single playoff game in Fenway Park, and the single darkest moment in Red Sox history
"But, as every schoolboy knows, the greatest pennant race collapse
was the epic implosion of the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1964 National League race. The Phillies and San Francisco Giants played even through the 4th of July. But Philadelphia took over after the all-star break. The Giants dropped out of contention, and the Phillies ran to a comfortable 5-7 game lead over the pack. They looked ready to coast home, 6 1/2 games ahead of the Reds on September 20th. And then...disaster. They lost their next game...and the next...and the next... Before the streak was over they had gone 0-10 and dropped into third place. Two wins at the end came too late, and the Cardinals were champions.
"I tell you all this because right now, today, we are seeing a hell of a windup to the National League season
. On the last day of scheduled games, four teams are chasing two playoff spots. A convoluted round of tie-breakers could be required, as described here
"The most remarkable feature of the race so far: the historic collapse of the New York Mets, who led the National League by 7 games with 17 left to play, an act of seppuku
matched only by the 1964 Philadelphia squad. Sports Illustrated
gives the gruesome details here
. And the team that has run down the Mets, and now stands poised to deliver the death blow? The Philadelphia Phillies, of course.
"Jayson Stark of ESPN writes
: 'In 1964, the Phillies were the team on the wrong end of the Greatest Collapse in History. Now, 43 years later, they are just a win or two away from being the team on the right end of somebody else's Greatest Collapse in History.'
"But yesterday the Mets won and the Phillies lost (story here
). And now, in this race that began six months ago, we are in a dead heat with one to play. It is too sweet for words. Play ball!"