Baseball's 15 Biggest Pennant-Chase Goats of All Time
Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca. Photo courtesy tabletmag.com
Just about every player in baseball dreams about being the man that their team can count on in the clutch—delivering that big hit or coming up with that one big out that can save their team.
History is littered with players who have done just that, but history is also filled with players and managers who for some reason just didn't have it when their team needed it most. Or who simply came up with a bonehead play or move at the most inopportune of times.
Here are 15 such players/managers who were unable to get it done when it mattered most.
15. Jose Reyes: New York Mets, 2007
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
In the final weeks of the 2007 season, the New York Mets seemingly had a hold on the National League East title. A seven-game lead on Sept. 12 seemed pretty much like a lock.
The Mets lost that lead, and leadoff hitter Jose Reyes was a major factor in his team's demise.
From Sept. 12 on, Reyes, who had been close to a .300 hitter for much of the season, hit just .187, including just 2-for-23 over the final five games of the season.
When it mattered most, Reyes was nowhere to be seen.
14. Tom Glavine: New York Mets, 2007
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Tom Glavine won 305 games during his fabulous 22-year career, but in 2007, he picked the worst day possible to post the worst outing of his career.
On Sept. 30, the New York Mets needed a victory against the Florida Marlins to either win the National League East or at the very least force a one-game playoff with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Mets manager Willie Randolph turned to veteran Glavine to help deliver that victory. However, Glavine couldn't even get out of the first inning, giving up seven runs on five hits before finally being removed after recording just one out.
The Mets would go on to lose to the Marlins 8-1, allowing the Phillies to claim the NL East title outright and marking one of the biggest collapses in MLB history.
13. Milt Stock: Brooklyn Dodgers Third Base Coach, 1950
Photo courtesy wikipedia.org
On the final day of the regular season in 1950, the Brooklyn Dodgers hosted the Philadelphia Phillies at Ebbets Field. The Dodgers needed to beat the Phillies to force a three-game playoff to decide the National League pennant.
With the score tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Dodgers left fielder Cal Abrams walked to start the frame and moved to second on a sharp single by shortstop Pee Wee Reese.
Duke Snider then hit another sharp single to center field. Phillies center fielder Richie Ashburn was known for a strong arm, and Abrams, the runner on second, was never considered fleet of foot.
Nonetheless, Dodgers third base coach Milt Stock inexplicably waved Abrams home instead of having the bases loaded with no one out.
Ashburn easily threw Abrams out at the plate, and Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts retired the next two batters to send the game into extra innings.
Phillies left fielder Dick Sisler would later hit a three-run homer in the top of the tenth, giving the Phillies a 4-1 victory and the NL pennant.
Needless to say, Stock did not return to the Dodgers the following season.
12. Jack Chesbro: New York Highlanders, 1904
Photo courtesy wikipedia.org
In 1904, New York Highlanders pitcher Jack Chesbro put together a remarkable season, setting the modern-day record for wins (41), complete games (48) and innings pitched (454.2).
However, Chesbro's career will forever be marred by what happened on the final day of the regular season.
The Highlanders (now the Yankees) were 1.5 games behind the Boston Americans (now the Red Sox) and needed to sweep a doubleheader in order to capture the American League pennant.
Chesbro and the Highlanders entered the top of the ninth inning with the score tied at 2-2. Boston’s Lou Criger singled, then went to second on a sacrifice and advanced to third on a wild pitch.
Chesbro then uncorked one of his famous spitballs that sailed over the head of catcher Red Kleinow for another wild pitch, allowing Criger to score the go-ahead run.
The Highlanders went quietly in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Americans a 3-2 victory to clinch the American League pennant.
11. Craig Kimbrel: Atlanta Braves, 2011
Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE
On Sept. 28, 2011, the Atlanta Braves needed a victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in order to have a shot at making the playoffs.
Tied with the St. Louis Cardinals at 89-72, a Braves win would force a one-game playoff with the Cards, who had already beaten the Houston Astros.
The Braves entered the top of the ninth inning nursing a 3-2 lead, and rookie closer Craig Kimbrel replaced Jonny Venters to close it out for the Braves.
Kimbrel had already established the record for saves by a rookie, so things looked bright at the time.
However, Kimbrel gave up a up a single to Placido Polanco to lead off the inning, and after striking out Carlos Ruiz, he gave up consecutive walks to Ben Francisco and Jimmy Rollins to load the bases with just one out.
Kimbrel then gave up a sacrifice fly to Chase Utley, scoring Pete Orr with the tying run.
Kimbrel then gave up his third walk of the inning to Hunter Pence to re-load the bases and was finally removed by manager Fredi Gonzalez. The Phillies would eventually win the game in the 13th inning, eliminating the Braves from the playoffs.
For a man who had been close to automatic the entire season, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
10. Daniel Bard: Boston Red Sox, 2011
Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
There is plenty of blame to go around for the epic September collapse of the Boston Red Sox in 2011, but setup man Daniel Bard can certainly shoulder a good portion of it as well.
Bard had been terrific all season long, entering the month of September with a stellar 2.03 ERA in 59 appearances.
But Bard's September was one to forget.
During the month, Bard suffered four losses, three blown saves and gave up 13 earned runs in 11.0 innings.
Was Bard the biggest reason the Sox imploded in that final month? Certainly not, but he did indeed save his worst for last.
9. Willie Randolph: New York Mets, 2007
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
On Sept. 12, 2007, the New York Mets held a seven-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East. On Oct. 1, they were getting ready to play golf.
The Mets lost 12 of their final 17 games, finishing one game behind the Phillies and completing one of the worst collapses in MLB history.
Mets manager Willie Randolph somehow survived the collapse, getting a vote of confidence from GM Omar Minaya and owner Fred Wilpon just days after the meltdown, yet he was gone after just 69 games the following season.
Many fans blamed Randolph for questionable in-game decisions and his alleged poor handling of the clubhouse. Ultimately, the blame lays on the players for not getting it done, but not finding a way to dig out of a hole didn't help Randolph in the end.
8. Milton Bradley: San Diego Padres, 2007
Photo courtesy gaslampball.com
On September 23, 2007, during a game against the Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres outfielder Milton Bradley allowed his temper to help bring an end to the Padres' playoff hopes.
During an argument with first base umpire Mike Winters, Bradley had to be physically restrained by manager Bud Black. Bradley fell to the ground while being held by Black, resulting in a torn ACL.
With Bradley’s injury, the Padres lost their Wild Card lead to the Colorado Rockies, losing in a one-game playoff at the end of the season.
7. Joe McCarthy: Boston Red Sox, 1948
Photo courtesy ebay.com
Joe McCarthy is fondly remembered in New York for guiding the Yankees to eight pennants and seven World Series championships in his 16 years in the Bronx.
However, fans of the Boston Red Sox remember McCarthy for an entirely different reason.
On the last day of the 1948 regular season, the Boston Red Sox beat the New York Yankees, while the Cleveland Indians lost to the Detroit Tigers, putting both the Red Sox and Indians at the top of the American League with identical 96-58 records. There would be a one-game playoff to decide the American League pennant, the first ever in AL history.
With the game to be played at Fenway Park, Indians player/manager Lou Boudreau elected to pitch Gene Bearden, a 19-game winner who had beaten the Sox twice during the season. Bearden, however, would be going on just one day's rest.
In a curious move to say the least, Sox manager Joe McCarthy elected not to pitch Mel Parnell, who was rested and had beaten the Indians three times during the season. McCarthy instead chose Denny Galehouse. It was later revealed that McCarthy liked Galehouse’s chances as a right-hander in Fenway Park, as opposed to Parnell with the short left-field wall and strong Indians right-handed batters.
The move backfired, and the Indians scorched Galehouse for five runs in four innings, and the Indians prevailed 8-3, giving them the American League pennant for the first time since 1920, while McCarthy became public enemy No. 1 in Boston.
6. Marcel Lachemann: California Angels, 1995
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
In 1994, the California Angels named Marcel Lachemann their manager, replacing Buck Rodgers. After a strike curtailed the 1994 season, by the time baseball resumed in 1995, the Angels were on fire, at one point leading the Seattle Mariners by 11 games in August in the American League West.
However, the Angels went on a nine-game losing streak, giving up major ground to the Mariners. After righting the ship for a short period, the Angels again lost nine straight in September, squandering a six-game lead to the Mariners and ending their season after a one-game playoff won by Seattle.
It is still considered one of the biggest collapses in MLB history, and Lachemann was largely blamed for the team's demise. He was in fact dismissed the following season.
5. George Bell: Toronto Blue Jays, 1987
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Toronto Blue Jays left fielder George Bell won a Most Valuable Player award in 1987 following a terrific season. However, he went missing when the Blue Jays needed him most.
Entering play on Sunday, September 27, the Blue Jays held a 3.5-game lead over the Detroit Tigers with just seven games to play.
However, the Jays would lose every one of those games, including a season-ending sweep at the hands of the Tigers.
Bell, who had been the offensive force for the Jays all season long, was a woeful 3-for-27 (.111) that final week with just one run batted in.
4. Gene Mauch: Philadelphia Phillies, 1964
Photo courtesy philly.com
On Monday morning, Sept. 21, 1964, the Philadelphia Phillies enjoyed a 6.5-game lead in the National League with just 12 games to play.
What followed came to be considered one of the worst collapses in MLB history.
The Phillies started losing and kept on losing. Manager Gene Mauch tried to stem the tide by utilizing pitchers Jim Bunning and Chris Short on short rest, but that plan backfired as well.
By the time the dust had settled, the Phillies had lost ten straight games, with Bunning and Short losing five of them, and the Cardinals had eliminated the Phillies on the third-to-last day of the regular season.
The "Phold" became a new word in Philadelphia lore, and Mauch was left to answer for his curious handling of his pitching staff.
3. Mike Torrez: Boston Red Sox, 1978
Photo courtesy richardbradley.net
While everyone remembers Bucky "Bleeping" Dent and his three-run home run in the top of the seventh inning of the 1978 playoff game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, the name of Mike Torrez doesn't exactly conjure up happy memories in Boston either.
Torrez was the one who gave up the infamous homer to Dent that afternoon. To be fair, Torrez had been brilliant in the first six innings, allowing only two hits to a potent Yankees lineup.
But one pitch forever linked Torre to Chokesville, at least in the eyes of Red Sox fans.
2. Fred Merkle: New York Giants, 1908
Photo courtesy wikipedia.org
Fred Merkle ended up having a long career in baseball, playing 20 seasons for four teams. However, in 1908, Merkle made one boneheaded move that forever defined his career.
On Sept. 23, 1908, Merkle was the first baseman for the New York Giants, and the Giants were playing the Chicago Cubs. The two teams were at the top of the National League and were fighting for the pennant.
Merkle came to the plate with the scored tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth. With Moose McCormick on first base, Merkle singled McCormick to third. The next batter, Al Bidwell, followed with another single, scoring McCormick with the winning run.
Giants fans raced onto the field to celebrate the win, and Merkle, without touching second base, trotted back to the dugout. Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers noticed Merkle had not touched second base, retrieved the ball from the outfield, and touched second, appealing to umpire Hank O’Day who ruled Merkle out on the play. Since Merkle did not touch second, McCormick’s run was disallowed, returning the game to a tie.
The game would be suspended because the fans would not clear the field, and back then, suspended games were played all over again. The Giants and Cubs made up the suspended game at the end of the season with the Cubs winning and moving on to the World Series.
Merkle’s embarrassing moment would forever be called "Merkle’s Boner."
Note: Reprinted from an article I wrote in June 2011.
1. Ralph Branca: Brooklyn Dodgers, 1951
Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen pulled Newcombe, calling on Branca to come in and get the last two outs to get the Dodgers to the World Series.
Giants third baseman Bobby Thomson had other ideas. Just two pitches later, Branca became one of the biggest goats in pennant race history.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.