|Hold or fold? Mets, Red Sox try to avoid historic collapses|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 22 September 2007 17:23|
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what sends a team into a deep spiral. The slide can come from nowhere, like a Triple-A rookie thrown into a pennant race. Suddenly, a club with visions of a World Series - say this year's New York Mets or Boston Red Sox - finds itself trying to avoid a historic fold.
Don Zimmer knows. Three decades ago, his Red Sox were cruising. Next thing, they were collapsing.
``What happened in '78?'' the Tampa Bay senior adviser said Friday night. ``I've heard about it about nine times in the last hour and a half. What happened in '78?''
Zimmer's club led the New York Yankees by 14 games in mid-July, yet lost it all and wound up in a playoff at Fenway Park for the AL East title. The Bucky Dent game.
Right there, the Red Sox joined that dubious list, the one that includes the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers and 1995 California Angels.
``It happened in a hurry, I'll tell you that,'' Zimmer said. ``We had an offense, and all of a sudden it was like turning out a light switch. Nobody hit. The whole team just went into a total slump. Naturally, then you started hearing, Red Sox 'choke.' I hate that word. I really do. You go into slumps.''
This year's Red Sox led the Yankees by 14 1/2 games on May 30, but New York closed within 1 1/2 games this week. Boston ended a four-game losing streak Friday night with an 8-1 victory at Tampa Bay.
``We had a little talk before the game,'' Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said. ``We said just start having fun like we've been doing, and we want to play the game and forget about the division thing for a night. We wanted to walk away from that and just focus on winning the game.''
The biggest gap overcome? The 1914 Boston Braves trailed by 15 games on July 5 before rallying to win the championship.
But remember: Many of these late-season slumps come to a stop. The 2005 Chicago White Sox led the AL Central by 15 games on Aug. 1, watched Cleveland pull within 1 1/2 games in late September, and recovered to win the World Series.
Besides, the Red Sox had a safety net. With their win Saturday night, they clinched at least the AL wild-card spot.
``Winning the division is huge. It's important,'' Boston manager Terry Francona said. ``Does it mean you're going to the World Series? No. Does it mean you're not? No. That's the competitiveness in all of us. We want to win everything we do.''
The Phillies hoped 1964 would be the year they'd win their first World Series. They led the NL pennant race by 6 1/2 games with only 12 games remaining, but blew it all and finished one game behind St. Louis.
Mike Shannon played on the Cardinals team that overtook Philadelphia and went on to beat the Yankees in the Series.
``The Phillies had some injuries and only had couple of starting pitchers. And when you get on a roll and that team in front of you is not, the lead can disappear like that,'' the longtime Cardinals announcer said Friday night.
``We thought about it a lot,'' he said. ``Momentum is an unbelievable factor. And when you get it rolling you don't think you're ever going to lose. And when it's going the other way, you think you're never going to win one. Once you get in these things it's usually hard to get out of them, because there's usually a reason why, because you're thin somewhere.''
The Mets led the NL East by seven games on Sept. 12, then lost six of seven and allowed Philadelphia to trim the deficit to 1 1/2 games this week. It was those Phillies - so closely identified with a monumental collapse - who swept a pair of series from New York to cut the gap.
Clearly, injuries hurt the Mets. Closer Billy Wagner, starter Orlando Hernandez and slugger Carlos Delgado were among those sidelined down the stretch. The Mets bounced back to win Friday and Saturday at Florida.
``Everybody says teams choked but no, there's a reason. You've got a 6-furlong horse in a mile-and-a-half race,'' Shannon said.
``Yankees - yeah, I pay attention. Now's when it's fun. But it's a little different because of the wild card. Back then, you either made it or you went home. Now, the world's not going to come to an end,'' he said.
A capsule look at baseball's major meltdowns:
Mark Langston and Chuck Finley pitched the Angels to an 11-game bulge in the AL West by Aug. 3. California later lost nine in a row and fell three games behind Seattle. They went to a one-game playoff, and Randy Johnson led Seattle to a 9-1 victory that ended the Angels' season.
``The accolades rained down on us all summer, then a month later people were calling us chokers,'' Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina said after the final loss.
1978 Red Sox
Co. delighted New Englanders all summer. That is, until the so-called Boston Massacre when the Yankees stormed into Fenway and swept a four-game series. The Red Sox eventually fell 3 1/2 games behind the Yankees. They wound up in a playoff, and Dent decided it with a fly ball into the Green Monster's net.
``That was probably one of the most thrilling days that I've ever had in baseball,'' Zimmer said. ``No. 1, because it looked like we were gone. You go to Fenway Park to play one game for the whole ball of wax, it's something for me that was very special. Naturally, the biggest disappointment was losing it.''
Future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins hoped to bring the World Series back to Wrigley Field for the first time since 1945. They led the NL race in mid-August, with the Miracle Mets stuck in third place, trailing by 9 1/2 games. What turned the fates? Some say it was the night a black cat slinked past the Cubs dugout at Shea Stadium.
Desperate to squeeze out one more win in the stretch, manager Gene Mauch kept starting aces Jim Bunning and Chris Short. Instead, the Phillies lost 10 in a row, a streak that started with a 1-0 loss to the Reds, with rookie Chico Ruiz stealing home. Earlier this week, the Phillies rallied for a big win at Washington, a comeback set up by a big stolen bases from rookie Carlos Ruiz - no relation to Chico.
Bobby Thomson's bottom-of-the-ninth 'Shot Heard 'Round the World' won the decisive Game 3 of an NL pennant playoff, putting the New York Giants into the World Series and crushing Brooklyn. The Giants trailed the Dodgers by 13 1/2 games on Aug. 11, then won 16 in a row. A half-century later, it was revealed the Giants installed a telescope-and-buzzer system at the Polo Grounds to spy on catcher's signals.
Thomson insisted he was not tipped off to the fastball he hit from Ralph Branca.
``Sure, I've taken signs, obviously, in the not-very-nice way the Giants did it,'' Thomson said back in 2001. ``But did it happen on that fateful pitch? No, it didn't. If you want to believe me, that's fine. If not, OK.''
AP Sports Writer R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis and AP freelance writer Mark Didtler in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.