This was another one of those tremendous “from out of nowhere” scenarios. Nobody saw the Twins coming until it was too late. The Tigers had stood in first place from early May until the final day of the regular season, while the Twins just lurked in second place waiting to make its move. Their move came four days before the end of the regular season when the Tigers were hosting the Twinkies with a chance to clinch the division with a victory on their home field. After taking the first 2 from the Twins, it seemed that a sweep and another division title were in the cards for the Tigers; they were blown out 8-3. The Tigers then went on to lose 2 of their last 3 with their ace Justin Verlander saving their skin on the final day of the season and forcing a one-game playoff. What makes this race better than the ’95 Angels-Mariners was the playoff game; this playoff game was a classic back and forth affair. The Tigers had a 3-2 lead going into the 7th inning at the Metrodome when the Twins finally broke ahead of the Tigers with 2 runs in that inning. It had been 164 days, and 7 innings since the Tigers had to look up and catch someone, and to their credit the Tigers acted like champions by answering right back. They tied it up almost immediately in the Top of the 8th setting up a classic finish. Into the 10th inning they went at the Metrodome when the Tigers put up a run in the top half and silenced a raucous Metrodome crowd. I remember watching this game and getting the feeling that the Minnesota dream had come to an end. Boy was I wrong; the Twins answered with a run of their own in the bottom half of the 10th and prolonged the drama even further. Into the 12th they went where the Tigers had Bobby Keppel and the Twins on the ropes with the bases loaded and one out. A force out at home and a strikeout later and the Twins went into the bottom of the 12th with renewed life. They turned that momentum into a victory with Alexi Casilla driving in Delmon Young with a one out dribbler through the infield to FINALLY remove the Tigers from the first place seat in the AL Central in 2009.
3) 1987 AL East
First things first, any division that has three or more teams battling it out for the top spot is an exciting division to be a part of. The second thing is when a division comes down to the wire and is decided on the last weekend of the season, it’s a good thing. And thirdly, when 4 teams hold the top spot in the division for a period of 10 games or more during the course of one season, and have 89 wins or more; it’s a classic. When all 3 of these things come together within one summer of baseball, you have yourself one hell of a pennant race. It was the New York Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers and the Toronto Blue Jays butting heads for the entire summer for AL East supremacy. You have a Brewers team who had won a World Series five seasons ago, the Tigers who won a World Series two seasons ago, a powerhouse Blue Jay squad trying to give Canada a voice in this American game and of course, the Yankees who had been in large part irrelevant on the field for nearly eight seasons (which is unprecedented in the Bronx). Three of these four franchises have strong winning traditions and knew how to win these things; but who was the front runner for the majority of the season? The Jays. The Blue Jays had never fallen more than 6 games back at any time during the season, and bounced in and out of first place for the whole season. They seemed to have finally opened up an insurmountable three and a half game lead over the Tigers with seven games to play, but the thing was the Tigers had 4 of those final games with the Jays to make up that deficit. The Jays beat the Tigers in the first two games of a three game set at home to open up this three and a half game lead and looked to put their foot on the Tigers neck with a home sweep of Detroit. The Tigers were down to their last out in game #156 staring down the barrel of a 1-0 game deficit and a four and a half game standing deficit with Kirk Gibson coming up. The 1985 World Series MVP delivered not only the tie, but what now seems like the division title. The Tigers went on to win that game in 13 innings, and the Blue Jays didn’t win again in 1987. They went on to lose the final seven games of the season, including a three game sweep at the hands of the eventual division champs, the Tigers, in Detroit on the final weekend of the season.
2)1993 NL West Division race between the Atlanta Braves and the San Francisco Giants
1) 1978 AL East race between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees
This might be the most storied pennant race in the history of the game, and I think the fact that it’s the Yanks and the Sawx is what makes this race so intriguing. This race had all the bells and whistles; a big comeback, another big comeback, Hall of Famers and a dramatic one game playoff. The Yanks stood 14 games behind the Red Sox who were a powerhouse at this stage of the 70’s with a World Series appearance three years prior, future Hall of Famers Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Luis Tiant and Carl Yastrzemski, AND a 14 game lead on the Yanks; things could not get better for the Boston faithful. That is until the Yankees did it to them AGAIN. On July 19th, the Sox were 14 games up on the Yanks and even though it was as early as July, 14 games is damn near impossible to make up; especially when you’re chasing a quality squad like the Red Sox had that season. So the Sox did what most teams with that big of a lead would do; coast. They played .500 ball over a 50 game period; should be enough to deliver a division crown with a 14 game lead, right? WRONG! The Yanks went 38-15 over that stretch and caught the Sox with 3 weeks to go in the season. The Yanks tried to pull away from the Sox by going 13-7 over the final three weeks, but the Sox responded with their own 13-7 mark over the final 3 weeks, with an eight game winning streak to close out the regular season. That brings us to one of the best moments in sports, the one game playoff for the division crown, and back then it was monumental because it was win or go home; there was no wild card to fall back on. The fact that it was Red Sox- Yankees, in Boston, for the division title makes this game a classic before they even hit the field. The Yankees were coming to Boston to essentially defend their World Series title from the year prior, and they were sending their ace to the hill, the 25-3 Ron Guidry; needless to say the Fenway faithful were anxious. But heading into the 7th, the BoSox were up 2-0, and Mike Torrez was cruising, but then the wheels came off; sort of. In hindsight, this game played out like a microcosm of the 1978 season. The Sox were up for two-thirds of the season, and two-thirds of this game; the Yanks came back in the division and took the lead late in the season, as they did in this game with a 4 spot in the 7th inning. This is where the “Bucky f@#king Dent” homer comes into play with two-on, two-out, tied at 2-2, and Dent, not known for his home run power, blasts one over the Green Monster to give the Yanks a 4-2 lead. Jackson added what would be the eventual game winning homer in the top of the 8th to give the Yanks a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the inning. The Sawx made it a go by putting up a 2 spot in the 8th, but Goose Gossage shut the door on the Red Sox in the 9th, and ended what might be the most monumental collapse in baseball history; until the Mets came along in 2008, and ’09…but that’s a different story for a different day.
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