Dark legacies dot baseball history
Mets' loss on season's final day is a stark reminder
As the inconceivable upshot began to unfold early on Sunday afternoon in Queens with the instant departure of Mets starter Tom Glavine, the guy behind the mike, meeting his sponsor obligations, uttered the year's most oxymoronic words: "I'm lovin' it!"
Had he been in a broadcast booth in Citizens Bank Park, it would have been an understatement. There, the Phillies were about to burst into the trophy room through a seven-run hole in the door opened up by the Florida Marlins.
But the announcer was sitting in Shea Stadium, looking down on the final act of a play that was supposed to run for a few more weeks. The name of Florida's second baseman said it all for crestfallen Mets fans: It was an Uggla day.
In baseball, records and hearts are made to be broken. So, apparently, are dark legacies. Because the Mets will now join a short list of teams who squandered their September leads. In the case of the Mets, it was a seven-game lead with 17 games to go.
The Mets became the third team to lose a seven-game September lead, but they sat on that cushion later than the two precedents: The 1938 Pirates led by seven on Sept. 1, with 26 games remaining, and the 1934 New York Giants held that edge on Sept. 6, with 21 games left. Willie Randolph's besieged club led the Phillies by seven on Sept. 12.
By losing 12 of those 17 games -- while the Phillies were winning 13 of 17 -- the Mets made their painful contribution to the Book of Pennants Lost. Obviously, the Mets weren't the only team to lose their way in a divisional race.
The young Milwaukee Brewers shot out of the gate like cork out of a shaken bottle of bubbly and held an 8 1/2-game lead on June 23, before being brought back to the pack by a tailspin the first two weeks of July; thereafter, they jostled with the eventual National League Central champion Cubs down to the wire.
Boston's Red Sox almost lost their double-digit lead, too, before straightening themselves out to capture their first American League East flag since 1995.
Of course, some recent freefalls have been cushioned by being able to fall back on the Wild Card. The 2006 Detroit Tigers held a 10 1/2-game lead over the Twins on Aug. 7 only to have them swipe the AL Central on the last day -- but still wound up in the World Series.
Amplifying that point while the AL East title was still being contested, Boston skipper Terry Francona had said, "First place means a lot, because that's what we set as our goal at the beginning of the season. But it doesn't mean much [when it comes to winning] a World Series."
As such, Francona's heart rate had to be a bit slower than Don Zimmer's in 1978, or Gene Mauch's in 1964, or Chuck Dressen's in 1951. But there was nothing to keep Randolph's regular. After 140 days in the lead, either they won or were done.
The post-mortems for the Mets will go on for a long time. Questions will be asked and blame will be assigned. You can call their collapse many things -- unthinkable, humbling, depressing -- but you can't call it a fluke. The Phillies took it from them, beating the Mets seven straight starting Aug. 27. After the teams' last meeting on Sept. 16, they played the same schedule down to the wire.
Here are 10 other memorable late-season finishes. Or lack thereof:
1. 1951, Brooklyn Dodgers to NY Giants
Sitting pretty: On Aug. 11, after their 17th win in 20 games, the Dodgers were 70-35 and held a 13-game lead over the Giants.
2. 1978, Boston Red Sox to New York Yankees
Sitting pretty: On July 19, the Red Sox held a lead of 14 games over fourth-place New York.
3. 1964, Philadelphia Phillies to St. Louis Cardinals
Sitting pretty: On Sept. 21, the Phillies held a 6 1/2-game lead over both the Cardinals and Reds and were a lock. With 12 games to go, their magic number was seven, and the Phillies had never lost more than four straight.
4. 1995, California Angels to Seattle Mariners
Sitting pretty: On Aug. 2, soaring on the left arms of Chuck Finley and Mark Langston and with a midseason boost from rookie Garret Anderson, the Angels held an 11-game division lead -- over Texas, with third-place Seattle 13 back.
5. 1942, Brooklyn Dodgers to St. Louis Cardinals
Sitting pretty: On Aug. 5, the Dodgers had a 74-30 record and a 10-game NL lead over the Cardinals.
6. 1993, San Francisco Giants to Atlanta Braves
Sitting pretty: On July 22, Barry Bonds' first Giants team held a 10-game lead over the defending NL East champion Braves.
7. 1969, Chicago Cubs to New York Mets
Sitting pretty: On Aug. 16, with 43 games to go, the Cubs held nine-game leads over both the Cardinals and the Mets.
8. 1914, New York Giants to Boston Braves
Sitting pretty: On July 5, the Giants had a four-game NL lead over the Cubs -- but a 15-game bulge over the last-place Braves, a typical ditch for a team that had averaged 100 losses in the previous 10 seasons.
9. 1979, Houston Astros to Cincinnati Reds
Sitting pretty: On July 4 -- always a telltale date on the baseball calendar -- the Astros held a 10 1/2-game West Division lead over the Reds.
10. 1987, Toronto Blue Jays to Detroit Tigers
Sitting pretty: On Sept. 26, following a third consecutive victory over the Tigers, the Blue Jays boasted a 3 1/2-game lead over them with seven games remaining.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.