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.

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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:

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    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.


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

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    1906 White Sox

    With a .230 team batting average and only six home runs in 154 games, the White Sox earned their "Hitless Wonders" nickname before surprising the crosstown Cubs in a six-game, homerless World Series.

You think the Rays are Cinderellas? They'll have to take a number.

There have been four different occasions when baseball's world champion did not even finish first in their own division.

The 1994 advent of a three-division format plus wild-card winner mandated an earlier round of playoffs, a best-of-five Division Series, to determine League Championship Series opponents. That changed everything.

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By Daniel Bukszpan
CNBC.com

On Friday, Sept. 24, 2011, the Brad Pitt movie "Moneyball" opened across the U.S. It had the misfortune of opening alongside the 3D re-release of "The Lion King," which easily and unsurprisingly became the highest grossing film of the weekend. "Moneyball" was right behind it, however, earning a respectable $21 million at the box office.

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Slideshow: Highest grossing sports movies

The movie is based on the 2003 book of the same name. Pitt plays Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A's, whose job is to create the best possible team with a fraction of the money that other teams pay to recruit star players. Beane recruits players based on an analysis of their performance, as opposed to a general appraisal of their overall statistics. In the end, Beane builds a competitive team at a low cost.

"Moneyball" did well in part because it had what a lot of sports movies have -- the inspiring tale of an underdog who beats the odds. It's a simple formula, but when filmmakers get it right the result is often a story for the ages -- one that remains popular long after the movie leaves the theaters.

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CNBC.com collected the domestic gross box office of sports movies, using data from BoxOfficeMojo.com and adjusting the numbers for inflation. What are the highest grossing sports films of all time? Take a look.

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    5. Rocky II (1979)

    Domestic Gross: $85 million
    Adjusted for Inflation (2011): $266 million

    The original "Rocky" was hugely successful and won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1976. While the sequel didn't quite reach those same heights, it more than held its own, earning both positive reviews and more than $85 million at the box office -- a gold mine in 1979. This was enough to earn “Rocky II” the distinction of highest grossing sequel of all time, before "The Empire Strikes Back" took the title the following year.

See more top grossing sports movies.

Check out Sports Biz with Darren Rovell.

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    12. Joshua Harris, 76ers

    Earlier this summer, buyout specialist Harris bought the 76ers from Comcast-Spectator. Harris has an impressive resume that includes a bachelor's degree from Penn’s Wharton School of Business and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. The 46-year-old is one of the youngest on our list and worth $1.45 billion.

Think NBA owners are sweating out each day of the lockout? Maybe you should check the number of league bosses on the latest Forbes 400 list. A dozen NBA owners made the rankings of the richest people in America. With 30 teams in the conference, that means 42.8 percent of the owners are sitting pretty. (And even if the entire season is sacrificed, they can write off the losses to save some money on taxes.)

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    Roberto Luongo: $121,951

    The Canucks goalie signed a 12-year, $64 million contract extension in 2010, and will earn a reported $10 million in the upcoming NHL season. Will that pay off in the form of a Stanley Cup?

It's no secret: Some of the world's top athletes get paid very, very well. Whether they deserve the money for playing a sport they love is anyone's opinion, but for major sports fanatics, having elite talent representing your favorite team on the field of battle is well worth the price paid for it.

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Mariano Rivera set the all-time saves record Monday with No. 602 by working a perfect ninth inning against the Twins. Those, of course, do not include the playoffs and World Series, and that's when the Yankees have leaned on Rivera even more to deliver in the big moments.

Consider: Rivera has 42 postseason saves and 31 of them have required four or more outs. Seven of those multi-inning saves have come in the World Series. Here's a closer look:

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1998, Game 1 v. Padres

Four outs. Rivera relieved set-up man Jeff Nelson with two outs in the eighth and runners on first and second. The Yanks led 9-5 at the time. Wally Joyner, the first batter to face Rivera, reached on a error and the Padres scored an unearned run to make it 9-6. But Rivera got Steve Finley to ground out to first, then worked a perfect ninth with two strikeouts and a pop-up.

1998, Game 3 at Padres

Five outs. The Padres trailed 5-3 in the eighth. After Ramiro Mendoza gave up a one-out double to Quilvio Veras, Rivera took over. Tony Gwynn singled and Greg Vaughn hit a sacrifice fly to make it 5-4, but Rivera fanned Ken Caminiti to end the inning. In the ninth, Rivera made it interesting by allowing two-out singles to Carlos Hernandez and Mike Sweeney before striking out Andy Sheets to end the game.

1998, Game 4 at Padres

Four outs. Andy Pettitte opened the eighth with a 3-0 lead, but after retiring the leadoff hitter, he gave up a walk and a single. Nelson came on and struck out the only batter he faced, Vaughn. Caminiti then singled off Rivera to load the bases, but ex-Yankee Jim Leyritz flew out to center for the third out. Ruben Rivera led off the ninth with a single, Hernandez hit into a double play and Sweeney grounded out to complete the Yankees' sweep.

1999, Game 1 at Braves

Four outs. The Yankees trailed 1-0 until the eighth when they scored four runs against Greg Maddux and John Rocker. Orlando Hernandez struck out 10 in seven innings before Joe Torre turned to the bullpen. Nelson, Mike Stanton and Rivera each recorded one out in the eighth. In the ninth, Rivera gave up a single to Bret Boone and a walk to Chipper Jones with one out to bring the potential tying run to the plate. He struck out Brian Jordan for the second out, then got pinch-hitter Greg Myers to pop up.

1999, Game 4 v. Braves

Four outs. Roger Clemens, dueling against John Smoltz, had a 3-0 lead with two outs in the eighth when Walk Weiss and Gerald Williams connected for singles. Nelson entered and gave up a single to Boone, which cut the Yankees' lead to 3-1. With runners on the corners for Atlanta, Rivera got out of the inning by getting Jones on a groundout. In the ninth, Rivera enjoyed a 1-2-3 inning against Jordan, Ryan Klesko and Keith Lockhart to cap back-to-back World Series titles for the Yanks.

2000, Game 4 at Mets

Six outs. The Yankees used four pitchers -- Denny Neagle, David Cone, Nelson and Stanton -- before turning to Rivera with a 3-2 lead in the eighth. Todd Zeile had a two-out single in the eighth for the Mets, but that was it. In the ninth, Rivera bookended strikeouts of Benny Agbayani and Matt Franco around a flyout by Jay Payton to lock down the win. This was the pivotal game because it gave the Yanks a 3-1 series lead.

2009, Game 2 v. Phillies

Six outs. A.J. Burnett worked seven innings, and the Yanks got homers from Mark Teixeira and Hideki Matsui to take a 3-1 lead. Rivera started the eighth and made it a little dicey when, with one out, he gave up a walk to Jimmy Rollins and a single to Shane Victorino. But Chase Utley hit into a double play to end the inning. In the ninth, Ryan Howard struck out looking to lead off. Jayson Werth lined out to second. Raul Ibanez then doubled, but Rivera punched out Matt Stairs to wrap it up. (Rivera recorded five outs in Game 6 when the Yankees clinched the championship but it was not a save situation.)

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Novak Djokovic won the U.S. Open on Monday and became just the fifth player in the modern era (since 1968) to capture three Grand Slam titles in the same year. (We aren't counting Rod Laver who took home all four Grand Slams in 1969.)

Check out this list of five, and it is notable for those missing. Consider these five who aren't on it: Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl.

Jimmy Connors

1974. Connors won the Australian, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and didn't a chance to play in the French. Connors' participation in World Team Tennis at the time prompted the French to bar him from the event.

Mats Wilander

1988 The Swedish Hall of Famer is the only one in this group whose three-title combo is Australian, French and U.S. Wilander overcome his opponent's home-court advantage in two of the finals, beating Pat Cash in the Australian and Henri Leconte in the French.

Roger Federer

2004, 2006, 2007. Federer sets himself apart from the rest of the class by pulling off this trick -- Australian, Wimbledon and U.S. -- three times. In 2006 and 2007, Federer reached the French finals before losing to Rafael Nadal.

Rafael Nadal

2010. Nadal won the French, Wimbledon and U.S., beating three different opponents, none of whom was Federer, in the respective finals. His championship victories came against Robin Söderling (French), Tomas Berdych (Wimbledon) and Djokovic (U.S.). Beating Djokovic also gave Nadel a career Grand Slam.

Novak Djokovic

2011.His lone Grand Slam loss of the year came in four sets at the French against Federer. He won championship matches against Andy Murray (Australian) and Nadal (Wimbledon and U.S.). Djokovic needed a medical timeout in the fourth set against Nadal at the U.S. Open before prevailing 6–2, 6–4, 6–7, 6–1.

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The NFL season opened with several startling achievements. Here are the most notable:

Beating The Odds

The NFL moved kickoffs five yards up the field to the 35-yard line, and the change produced expected results: Before the two Monday night games, nearly half of the kickoffs in the openers were touchbacks, an increase of 18 percent from Week 1 last season. On the other hand, Randall Cobb (Packers), Percy Harvin (Vikings) and Ted Ginn Jr. (49ers) all returned kickoffs for touchdowns. That matched the league record for most touchdowns on kickoff returns on the opening week ever (1970, 1998).

Double Trouble

After returning a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown, Ginn had more in store for the Seahawks. Just 59 seconds later, Ginn scored on a 55-yard punt return. He was the first 49er to score on kickoff and punt returns in the same game and just the 12th player in NFL history to do it.

Dialing Long Distance

Cam Newton completed just 42 percent of his passes for the Panthers in the preseason. Then he exploded for 422 passing yards Sunday against the Cardinals. That tied the league record for most passing yards in a game by a rookie quarterback, set two years ago by Detroit's Matthew Stafford.

Birthday Gifts?

Ravens safety Ed Reed celebrated his 33rd birthday by grabbing two interceptions against the Steelers. That gives Reed 12 multi-pick games (13 if you count the playoffs). It's the most of any player whose career began in the Super Bowl era.

Early And Often

In a 34-7 romp over Indianapolis, the Texans rang up all of their points in the first half. Jacoby Jones capped the scoring with a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown in the final minute of the second quarter. It was the first time since 1994 that a team posted at least 34 points in the opening half on the opening weekend. That's when the Colts did it. The interesting twist? It came against Houston, but it was the Oilers, not Texans.

High Five

The Patriots registered a franchise-record 622 yards of offense Monday night in Miami, with 517 of them coming from Tom Brady's career high in passing. Brady's 517 ranks fifth on the all-time list for single-game yardage behind Norm Van Brocklin (554), Warren Moon (527), Boomer Esiason (522, OT) and Dan Marino (521).

Must Be The Mountain Air

Sebastian Janikowski of the Raiders tied the NFL record for longest field goal by nailing a 63-yarder just before halftime Monday night in Denver. Tom Dempsey of the Saints established the mark in 1970 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. Jason Elam of the Broncos matched it in 1998 at the old Mile High Stadium. Janikowski converted a 61-yarder against the Browns in 2009.

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Sept. 11, 2001 changed America forever, including the sports landscape.

Everyone remembers how sports responded to the nation's terror attack, but it's harder to remember what was going on before it. Turns out some of the topics from the week leading up to that awful day laid the foundation for discussions we're still having today. Take a look at 10 of the top stories from the sports section on Sept. 10, 2001:

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Favre Slays Lions

The Packers were coming off a 28-6 win over the Detroit Lions, a game that featured Brett Favre's cut block on Alonzo Spellman. This textbook "Favre having fun" play, plus 22 completions on 28 attempts, helped fight off questions of whether Favre's abilities were beginning to slip.

Bonds On Record Pace

Barry Bonds, 36, had just reached 63 home runs thanks to a three-dinger effort in Colorado before the Giants traveled to Enron Park in Houston. This moved Bonds past Roger Maris in the single-season home run record book, a day before Maris would have been 67 years old. Bonds finished with 73 homers, but there was already a storm surrounding him based on the speculation that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

Kerry Collins In Prime Time

The Los Angeles Times' Sam Farmer previewed the Monday night game between the Broncos and Giants as "a showdown between Denver quarterback Brian Griese, a budding star, and New York's Kerry Collins, who resurrected his career last season." The Broncos won 31-20, but lost star receiver Ed McCaffrey to a badly broken leg. It was the Broncos' first-regular season game at the new Invesco (now Sports Authority) Field at Mile High. The quest to replace John Elway continues a decade later. But Collins is still chucking it, thanks to Peyton Manning's bad neck.

Z Man Leads The A's

Barry Zito, the American League pitcher of the month in August, was sporting a 7-1 record and a 0.83 earned-run average since July 29. On Sept. 10, he beat the Rangers to give the Athletics a record of 87-57 -– good enough for second best in the American League.

A-Rod On The Upswing

Alex Rodriguez, 25, went 0-for-4 in that loss to Zito and the A's, but finished the year with a then career-high 52 home runs. He was considered the anti-Bonds, the clean player chasing history.

Rough Debut For Herm

After the Jets lost 45-24 to the Colts, the New York Daily News’ Gary Myers wrote the Jets stunk up the place, but that the "constantly upbeat [Herm] Edwards is going to be a fine head coach. He will win a lot of games before he's done with the Jets."

Danny Almonte's Age Flap

The lead sports story in Time Magazine was called "Bronx Bummer." It was about Little League pitcher Danny Almonte, who pitched the first perfect game since 1957 in the Little League World Series, being exposed as 14 years old. Almonte had risen to cult status due to a dominating performance that was aided by the fact that he was two years older than his teammates and the competition. It left many questioning the ethics and parenting in youth sports, and the naivety of the rest of us.

Rocketing To Cy Young

Roger Clemens, 39, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. A piece by Tom Verducci highlighted Clemens' commitment to his family and a grueling fitness regimen created by a trainer named Brian McNamee. That was credited to helping Clemens go 19-1 to that point in the season for the Yankees. The rainout against Boston on Sept. 10 denied Clemens the chance to get his 20th win against his former team. "It would have been great theater," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

Aussie Wins U.S. Open

Lleyton Hewitt blew by Pete Sampras to win the U.S. Open over the weekend, and it appeared to signify the end of Sampras' improbable run as a professional tennis player. But Sampras came back to win the 2002 U.S. Open for the 14th and final grand slam title of his career.

Canes On Path To Title

The Miami Hurricanes (2-0) were coming off a 61-0 win over Rutgers, and were the easy consensus No. 1 in both college football polls, replacing Florida, which had also won big. The feeling already early in the season was that Miami would roll to a title. Oklahoma was third, and Nebraska, the team Miami would eventually pummel in the national championship game, lurked at No. 4. The Huskers were still ranked fourth when they were controversially chosen by the BCS to play Miami at the end of the year.

Related Stories:
-- Slideshow: The Sporting World Remembers 9/11
-- Ten Years After Reading With The President, Lazaro Dubrocq Finds Meaning In Sports

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By Jean Folger
Investopedia.com

Since the late 1930s when Red Rock Cola hired baseball great Babe Ruth to endorse its soft drink brand, companies around the world have used athletes and celebrities to promote their products. Companies utilize celebrity endorsements as part of an entire branding process to communicate their brands to particular sets of customers.

When selecting a celebrity endorser, a company might consider the attractiveness of the celebrity (in terms of physical appearance, intellectual capabilities, competence and lifestyle), the credibility of the celebrity (his or her perceived expertise and trustworthiness) and the apparent compatibility between the celebrity and the brand.

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When celebrity endorsements don't work

Companies expect to see a return on their investments -- both in terms of rising stock prices and increased sales -- when paying the big bucks to sign a celebrity. Research has shown that stock prices rise one quarter of 1 percent following the announcement of an athlete endorser, and sales increase an average of 4 percent. Sales may also enjoy a bump whenever the athlete experiences a career triumph such as a Grand Slam win or Olympic gold medal. Here are six celebrities and the companies they endorse.

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Michael Jordan
In 1984, Nike launched what would become the most successful athlete endorsement campaign in history. Michael Jordan, one of basketball's greatest players, signed on with Nike before he ever even played a game in the NBA. Fresh out of college, Nike offered Jordan $500,000 and his own shoe line. The Jordan Brand is now a subsidiary of Nike that grossed over $1 billion in 2009. That figure represents approximately 5 percent of Nike's overall revenues. Decades after the initial deal was signed, Jordan continues to boost Nike's bottom line. According to 2009 statistics provided by SportsOneSource, the Jordan Brand had a 10.8 percent share of the U.S. shoe market, and 75 percent of all basketball shoes sold in the U.S. are Jordans.

Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova gained attention at 17 when she defeated two-time defending champion Serena Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final. Despite an impressive career prize money earnings of more than $16 million, Sharapova has earned far more through endorsement deals. In January 2010, Sharapova renewed her contract with Nike for $70 million over eight years, making it the biggest deal ever for a female athlete.

Sharapova has been the highest-paid female athlete in the world for seven straight years, earning twice as much as any other female athlete. Sharapova earned $25 million last year compared to 2010 No. 1 seed tennis player Caroline Wozniacki's $12.5 million. Sharapova also has endorsement deals with Canon, Motorola, Colgate, Palmolive, Prince, Tiffany and Evian.

William Shatner
William Shatner may already be better known for his comedic presence as Priceline's Negotiator than for his role as Captain James Tiberius Kirk on "Star Trek." Priceline came close to being another dot-com bust when the entire travel industry was challenged following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Priceline rebuilt its brand around hotels -- instead of airfares -- and expanded its market in Europe. In addition to rebranding, Priceline brought in the Negotiator to boost revenues. The relationship has been mutually beneficial. Priceline's stock has soared to over $500, and Shatner has allegedly made hundreds of millions of dollars on the deal.

Justin Bieber
According to Forbes, teen heartthrob Justin Bieber earned $53 million from May 2010 to May 2011. He earned nearly $40 million from touring, and another $13 million from endorsement deals, merchandising and music sales. Bieber endorses the One Less Lonely Girl nail polish collection from Nicole by OPI, a brand sold exclusively at Walmart. The line sold out within weeks at more than 3,000 Walmart locations across the U.S.

Bieber also endorses the privately owned Proactiv brand, an acne treatment system. Proactiv, which reportedly spends between $12 and $15 million per year on endorsements, will pay Bieber $3 million over two years for his Proactiv endorsement. There were 125,000 YouTube downloads and 500,000 views of Bieber's Proactiv clips logged during the first day that the deal was announced. Guthy-Renker, the firm that markets and sells Proactiv, notes a visible uptick in sales when Proactiv is endorsed by musical artists like Bieber, Jessica Simpson, Katy Perry and Avril Lavigne.

Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie is Hollywood's highest-paid actress, and is known equally for her beauty and humanitarian efforts. Earlier this year, luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton signed Jolie to its Core Values advertising campaign. The endorsement deal will earn Jolie $10 million. Vuitton's Core Values campaign will run for 18 months and feature other celebrities that are known humanitarians, including U2's Bono. Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, donated their fees to several charitable organizations including Conservation Cotton Initiative, which supports sustainable farming practices in Africa.

U2
In 2004, the band U2 endorsed Apple's iPod as part of its Silhouette ad campaign. Other bands, including the Black Eyed Peas and N.E.R.D., were part of the breakthrough campaign. U2 brought Apple's stock shares to a 52-week high within 72 hours of the endorsement. U2's then-new single "Vertigo" was released through a 30-second ad and was offered for sale exclusively on iTunes. U2, which had been known for turning down multimillion-dollar endorsement deals, was not paid for the "Vertigo" ad but was able to gain a new, younger audience because of the deal.

The bottom line
It seems that consumers inherently like to eat, drink, wear and drive the same products that celebrities use. Many consumers see the success of celebrities and, whether by conscious decisions or subconscious processes, wish to emulate the famous by using the same products. Companies are on to this and spend millions of dollars each year securing celebrities to endorse their products.

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-- 5 People Who Turned Career Disaster Into Success
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Inside L.A.'s New Jordan Hangar