Your NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds
With their win this past Saturday, they’ve clinched their playoff spot. It’s an envious position for any team to find itself in, but particularly this team, as at the All-Star Break, the Reds were still behind the Pittsburgh Pirates and held only a tenuous grasp on even a wild-card slot. But the Reds triumphed, playing through one of the greatest second-half surges of all-time.
In honor of this Reds team’s late-season success, we investigate the other top five all-time end-of-season winning streaks. Like this Reds team, each of these best-ever finishes famously powered teams to a regular-season championship on the crest of a season-ending wave of wins.
1951 was supposed to be an easy summer for the Brooklyn Dodgers. They’d won pennants in ’47 and ’49, and by mid-August, the Dodgers held a whopping 13.5-game lead over their closest division rivals. A World Series showdown against the defending champion Yankees seemed all but assured.
The only problem was, nobody told the New York Giants.
Over the course of the next month, the Giants clawed their way up the standings, and by September 20, the Giants were only 4.5 games back with a record of 89-58 to the Dodgers’ 92-52.
The Dodgers had 10 games left. The Giants had seven. Playing even .500 baseball would clinch the pennant for the Dodgers.
But the Dodgers went 4-6, and the Giants went 7-0. From a 13.5-game lead, the Dodgers found themselves tied on the last day of the season with their crosstown rivals with matching records of 96-58.
It was determined that there would be a three-game playoff to decide the winner. The Giants won the first game; the Dodgers, the second. On the final day, it all came down to two men: Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca.
Thomson had already knocked a homer off of Branca to win Game 1 of the playoff series. But with the Dodgers up 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth with two on and one man out, manager Charlie Dressen brought Branca in to face Thomson again, and the rest is baseball history.
Thomson knocked the ball over the Polo Grounds’ short left field fence for a three-run homer. The papers called it “The Shot Heard 'Round The World,” and the Giants completed their comeback. The team were winners, Thomson was a hero and the man in the batter’s box—an untested rookie by the name of Willie Mays—had the best view of it all.
A new man was in the White House and the Giants and Dodgers were on a different coast, yet even a decade later, the results were the same.
Come September 22, the Dodgers’ record was an unbelievable 100-55. The Giants were 96-59, four games back with just seven games left to play. Again, .500 ball would be good enough to mathematically eliminate the surging Giants and a win for the Dodgers would mean the right to face the Yankees in the World Series.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. In the last seven games of the season, the Giants went 5-2, and the suddenly stumblebum Dodgers went 1-6. Once again, the teams finished the scheduled season tied, setting up another three-game playoff series.
The first game went to the Giants. The second to the Dodgers. And the last game of that series again went to the Giants, leaving that team with a final regular season record of 103-62 to the Dodgers’ 102-63 and a ticket to the playoffs.
Maury Wills set a still-unbroken record by playing in all 165 games for the Dodgers that season. But he and fans would gladly have traded that entry into baseball’s annals for a ticket to the Fall Classic.
1949 marked a year of great tension in sports and in the world, as World War II veterans Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams attempted to lead their respective clubs to glory on the battlefield of baseball.
With five games left in the season, the Yankees stood at 93-56, having ceded the AL lead after the Red Sox swept the Yankees in three straight games. With five contests remaining, both teams went 2-1, leaving Boston holding a one-game lead with only the final two games of the season to go.
And as fate would have it, the Yankees and Red Sox were pitted to play each other.
One win in two games was all Boston needed. Either would have clinched it. But the mighty Red Sox lost both their games to the Yankees, who went on to crush the Dodgers in five games in the World Series.
The season was so engaging, author David Halberstam wrote a book about it. It went on to become a New York Times No. 1 Bestseller.
What is it with these teams? The Giants keep having the Dodgers’ number, and with the Yankees and the Red Sox, it’s the same.
In the summer of 1978, the Red Sox were kings. They owned a comfortable 14-game lead over the rest of the AL East in mid-July. But as season neared its end, that lead dissipated, and come the final day of the schedule, both the Yankees and the Red Sox stood at 99-63.
A one-game playoff was scheduled, and with the Red Sox holding home-field advantage, it was played in the friendly confines of Fenway Park. But it was the Yankees who won a tiebreaker, powered to victory by the unlikely hero Bucky Dent.
Dent, a weak-hitting shortstop who knocked only 40 homers in his whole 12-year career, hit a three-run dinger that day to send the Yankees to the World Series and send the Red Sox packing.
The Curse of the Bambino would continue to rage on for the next 26 years after that.
Ya gotta believe! While the Woodstock and the Summer of Love swept the nation, two of the most historically hapless franchises in the major leagues—the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs—found themselves battling it out under the sweltering summer sun.
1969 was supposed to be the Cubs’ year, and early on in the season, it sure seemed to be. All four members of the Cubs’ starting infield—Ernie Banks, Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger and Ron Santo—made the NL All-Star Team, and come the Midsummer Classic, the Mets were still five games back. In fact, the team would fall as far as 10 games back by mid-August!
The Miracle Mets, however, were not to be denied, and the Mets’ hard-hitting outfield of Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee and Art Shamsky, backed by twin aces Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman in the starting pitching rotation, reeled off a run for the ages.
With a month left in the season, the Mets turned up the heat. They won nine in a row en route to closing out the season on a 22-5 run, a run that included a second nine-game win streak in the season’s closing days, to push past the Cubs on the road to postseason glory.