Both the Red Sox and Braves just learned that it takes 162 games to grab a playoff berth. Injuries, inexperience and the vagaries of the unbalanced schedule can turn contenders into pretenders in a heartbeat -- especially if another club gets hot down the stretch.

Baseball history is filled with stunning failures, from the 1951 Dodgers to the 1964 Phillies, but this year's reversals carved new niches in the annals of the game.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to read them first!

On August 31, the Red Sox led the American League East by a game-and-a-half over the Yankees and nine games over the Rays. Less than a month later, on Sept. 26, the Yankees had clinched the division and the Rays had climbed into a tie with the Red Sox as the American League's wildcard leader.

Although the Sox led the majors in runs scored for the month, their pitching imploded. During one 20-game stretch, the team won only once in games in which they scored less than 12 runs.

Even the 1962 Mets, a hapless expansion team that finished with 120 losses, had a better September winning percentage than the 2011 Red Sox.

Atlanta's fate was similar even though its cause was different. The Braves owned an 8½ game lead over the Cardinals on Sept. 5 before suddenly slipping into a team-wide batting slump that persisted during a 3-6 stretch against the Mets, Nationals and last-place Marlins. Three-game road sweeps by the Cardinals and Phillies, plus losses in the first two games of a season-ending finale against the Phils at home, left the Braves and Cards tied for the wild-card going into the last day of the season.

On Wednesday night in the regular-season finales, the Red Sox and Braves both blew leads in the ninth inning. Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon gave up two runs to the Orioles, and the Sox lost 4-3. Atlanta led by one run in the ninth, but the Phillies tied it and won in the 13th. The Rays and Cardinals advanced by winning. Tampa Bay did it in dramatic fashion, wiping out a 7-0 deficit, tying it in the ninth and winning in the 12th.

It's hard to believe less than a month has passed since Boston owned the second-best record in the game, trailing only the Phillies. But losing 16 of its first 21 in September placed the team in a historic predicament.

The Red Sox and Braves will be remembered for epic collapses. But they aren't alone in baseball history. Here are some of the most memorable:

Greatest Collapses In Major League History Slideshow


1942 Dodgers

Brooklyn led the Cardinals by 9½ games on August 15 but couldn't hold on. Even victories in its last eight games weren't enough to stop St. Louis, which went 43-9 to win the NL flag by two games.


1951 Dodgers

The Giants engineered one of the great rebounds, catching the Dodgers after Brooklyn had forged a 13½-game lead on August 11. The Giants went 39-8 down the stretch while the Dodgers played at a .500 clip to fall into a tie that required a best-of-three playoff. Brooklyn couldn't hold a 4-1 lead in the final inning of the third game, losing on Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round The World."


1962 Dodgers

Moving to Los Angeles didn't prevent the Dodgers from suffering another collapse in 1962. The team dropped six of its last seven to force another best-of-three playoff with the Giants. History repeated itself, as the Giants rallied in the ninth inning of the last game to win the pennant.


1964 Phillies

Philadelphia had had a 6½ game lead with 12 to play but lost 10 straight just as the Cardinals caught fire. That pre-division National League race nearly ended in a three-way tie, with the Reds tying the Phils for second, one game behind.


1969 Cubs

The Cubs, absent from the World Series since 1945, expected to end that drought in 1969 but lost 14 of their last 20, allowing the "Miracle" Mets to overcome a 9½ game deficit of August 14. With a 39-11 mark down the stretch, the Mets managed to win the very first NL East crown by eight games.


1978 Red Sox

Boston had a 14-game lead over the Yankees in July and a 7½ game lead with 32 to go. But New York's relentless pursuit ended in a single-game Fenway Park playoff punctuated by Bucky Dent's unexpected homer into the screen.


1987 Blue Jays

Toronto lost its last seven to blow a division crown that seemed certain when they held a 3½-game lead with seven to go. The Tigers were the beneficiaries, winning the AL East title by two games.


1993 Giants

In the last title chase under the two-division format, the 1993 Giants blew a 10-game July lead to the Braves, then in the NL West. The Braves won 104 times, once more than the Giants, but only Atlanta went to the playoffs in the last year before wild cards became part of the baseball lexicon.


1995 Angels

Anaheim blew an 11½ game August lead over the Mariners by losing 27 of its last 39 games. The M's won a one-game tiebreaker, then edged the heavily favored New York Yankees in the A.L. Division Series before finally fading.


2007 Mets

The Mets had a seven-game lead with 17 to play but lost a dozen games -- including six of their last seven -- as the Phillies stormed to the division crown.


2009 Tigers

Detroit led the AL Central from May 10 to the final week, then lost four potential clinchers and eventually lost the sudden-death playoff against the Twins. No other team has blown a three-game lead with four games left.

previous next

-- Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, N.J., is the author of 35 baseball books.