There’s no shortage of great comeback stories in baseball. But when it comes to vying for the pennant, that’s truly when teams channel their competitive magic.
Teams are often prematurely written off after a poor first half, but nothing is more integral for playoff contention than a dominant second half. Some of the most unlikely teams, like the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals, for instance, won the World Series despite finishing a game below .500 in the first half.
Below are the five most amazing pennant-race comebacks in history.
Note: Teams were picked based on first-half to second-half differences, as well as particularly historic moments (i.e. Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ‘round the world”).
All statistics sourced from Baseball-Reference.com.
After finishing a game under .500 in the first half, the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals appeared to be en route to a mediocre season.
But behind great performances by Bob Gibson (a 3.29 ERA and 13 wins), Bill White (a .938 OPS and 14 home runs) and Lou Brock (a .932 OPS and 11 home runs), the Cardinals surged in the second half. The Birds won 54 games in the second half, including a 21-8 record in September.
The team also bested the New York Yankees in the World Series, 4-3.
Despite winning the World Series just four years prior, few people thought much of the 1973 New York Mets. At season’s end, the Mets owned a pedestrian 82-79 record—but their seasonal record hardly reflected their “amazin’” second-half efforts.
The Mets steamrolled through the National League with a 40-28 second-half record. Behind the leadership of Tug McGraw (and his famous “Ya Gotta Believe” motto) and good play of Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, the team found themselves in the 1973 National League Championship Series against the powerhouse Cincinnati Reds.
The Mets’ magic continued into the playoffs, as the young New York franchise ousted the Reds, 3-2. Even though the Mets eventually lost to the Oakland Athletics in the World Series, 4-3, their comeback from mediocrity was historically impressive.
The New York Giants were not the favorites to advance to the 1951 World Series. Instead, the Brooklyn Dodgers were the team to beat. In the first half, the Dodgers ran out to a 50-26 record, looking like a clear contender in October.
The Giants, however, never gave up.
Despite going 44-36 in the first half, the Giants dominated in the latter months to the tune of a 54-23 record.
If not for Bobby Thomson’s home run off of Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca in the one-game playoff—also known as the “shot heard ‘round the world”—the Dodgers, not the Giants, would have advanced to the World Series.
The Giants fell to the New York Yankees in the World Series, 4-2.
The 1914 Boston Braves looked eerily similar to the fifth-place 1913 squad. In fact, over their first 76 games, the 1914 Braves lost 43 of them.
But the team did not throw in the towel.
Behind great performances by Joe Connolly (a .306 batting average and park-adjusted 159 OPS+), Bill James (a 1.90 ERA and park-adjusted 149 ERA+) and Dick Rudolph (a 2.35 ERA and 120 ERA+), the Braves emerged as a real threat in the National League.
In the second half, the Braves posted an impressive 61-16 record, featuring a sterling 26-5 record in September.
The team continued their success in the World Series, too, sweeping the Philadelphia Athletics in four games to capture the franchise’s second ring.
The 2007 Colorado Rockies seemed about as mediocre as a team could be. After posting just a 44-44 record at the All-Star break, most critics penciled the New York Mets in as the wild-card favorite.
But as the Mets stumbled, the Rockies took advantage, owning a .613 win percentage in the second half. The Rockies’ good fortune didn’t cease in the regular season, however.
The team swept both the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks in the division and championship series, respectively. Even though the Rockies themselves got broomed by the Boston Red Sox, the 2007 season was still an unexpectedly successful one.