Greatest late-season surges to reach postseason

September 23rd, 2022

Throughout Major League history, there have been some epic late-September runs during which teams have erased significant deficits over a small number of games to launch themselves into the postseason.

Will we see more this year as the final weeks of the regular season play out? Will the Cinderella story of baseball this year, the Orioles, overcome their deficit in the American League Wild Card standings? What about the Brewers, who are on the outside looking in, but could still claim a National League Wild Card spot with a big late run?

Perhaps this list will provide some inspiration -- here's a look at the greatest 11th-hour postseason pushes in baseball history:

2021 Cardinals
Three games back in NL Wild Card race on Sept. 11
The Cardinals were 71-69 on Sept. 11, with FanGraphs giving them an 8% chance at reaching the postseason. They beat the Reds at Busch Stadium that day, 6-4. That was the first of 17 consecutive victories through Sept. 28, when they defeated the Brewers in St. Louis to clinch a postseason berth. The 17-game winning streak set a new franchise record, surpassing the 14-game streak by the 1935 club. And during the streak, the Cards became the first team since the 1887 Phillies to win 11 straight games on the road. However, their season ended on a walk-off home run at Dodger Stadium in the NL Wild Card Game.

2012 Athletics
Five games behind Rangers in AL West with nine games to play

Coming off a heartbreaking walk-off loss to the Rangers in Arlington on Sept. 24, it looked as though the A's only hope for making the postseason was to win the American League Wild Card spot. But Oakland reeled off eight wins over its final nine games of the regular season, five of them against Texas. The two clubs met for the final series of the regular season, and the A's swept the Rangers at Oakland Coliseum to clinch the division crown on the season's final day. Oakland lost to eventual AL champion Detroit in a five-game Division Series.

2011 Rays
Four games behind Red Sox for AL Wild Card with 12 games to play
The Rays' incredible surge to win the Wild Card spot on the regular season's final day started much earlier in September, but nevertheless culminated in one of the most exciting finishes in history. Tampa Bay was 9 1/2 games behind Boston when the month began, and by Sept. 16, the Rays had closed that gap to four games.

Entering the regular-season finale against the Yankees at Tropicana Field, the Rays and Red Sox were tied with 90-71 records. Down to their final out and trailing, 7-6, Tampa Bay tied the game on Dan Johnson's solo homer. Then, in the 12th, launched a walk-off shot that sent the ballpark into a frenzy and the Rays into the postseason. They lost to the Rangers in a four-game ALDS.

2009 Twins
4 1/2 games behind Tigers in AL Central with 16 games to play
Minnesota was two games over .500 on Sept. 17, but won 12 of its final 16 regular-season games to tie Detroit atop the division and force a one-game tiebreaker at the Metrodome. In a thriller, the Twins were trailing by a run in the bottom of the 10th when Matt Tolbert grounded a single up the middle against Tigers closer Fernando Rodney to score Michael Cuddyer and tie the game. In the 12th, Alexi Casilla etched his name in Minnesota lore with a walk-off single to right that clinched the division title. The Twins were swept in the ALDS by the Yankees.

2007 Rockies
4 1/2 games behind Padres for NL Wild Card with nine games to play
The 2007 Rockies went on one of the greatest late-season hot streaks in history, winning 14 of their final 15 regular-season contests to force a one-game tiebreaker with the Padres to determine the National League Wild Card winner.

In a memorable Game 163, the two clubs were tied at 6 heading into the top of the 13th inning. San Diego took the lead on a two-run homer by Scott Hairston. But in the bottom of the frame, Kazuo Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki cut the deficit in half with back-to-back doubles against Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman. Matt Holliday followed with a game-tying triple, and he scored on a Jamey Carroll sacrifice fly to win the game, just beating the throw from right field to send Colorado into the postseason for the second time in franchise history. The Rockies continued their winning ways in October, sweeping into the World Series, where they were defeated in four games by the Red Sox.

1965 Dodgers
Four games behind Giants for NL pennant with 12 games to play

Much like the 2007 Rockies, the 1965 Dodgers went on a tremendous hot streak at the end of the regular season, winning 13 straight and 15 of 16 to overtake the Giants for the pennant. In his final three starts of the season, Sandy Koufax tossed three complete games -- including two shutouts -- while posting a 0.33 ERA. The legendary southpaw would be named Most Valuable Player of the World Series that year, posting a 0.38 ERA in three starts to help lift Los Angeles to a seven-game victory over Minnesota.

1964 Cardinals
Five games behind Phillies with 11 games to play
The Cardinals' postseason hopes were fading by Sept. 22, but St. Louis won 10 of its final 13 games to clinch the pennant on the final day of the regular season, leap-frogging the Giants, Reds and Phillies in the process. With a pitching staff anchored by Hall of Famer Bob Gibson and an offense featuring Hall of Famer Lou Brock, Ken Boyer and Bill White, the Cards went on to win the World Series in seven games over the Yankees. Gibson, who had a 3.00 ERA in three starts, won the first of two career World Series MVP Awards.

1962 Giants
Four games behind Dodgers with nine games to play
The Giants were 95-58 on Sept. 20, but they were still well behind the Dodgers with time running out in the regular season. But Los Angeles dropped seven of its final nine regular-season games while San Francisco won six of nine to finish with an identical record of 101-61. That forced a best-of-three series for the NL pennant.

The Giants hit Koufax hard in the first game for an 8-0 victory at Candlestick Park. The Dodgers evened the series at Dodger Stadium the next day, but San Francisco captured the pennant with a 6-4 victory in Los Angeles. The Giants lost to the Yankees in a seven-game World Series that concluded with second baseman Bobby Richardson snaring a Willie McCovey line drive with the tying and winning runs on base.

1951 Giants
Four games behind Dodgers with seven games to play
In what is regarded as the greatest late-season run in baseball history, the Giants were 13 games behind the Dodgers on Aug. 11 before going 37-7 the rest of the way. With a week left in the season, New York was still four games back but were in the midst of a run during which it would win 13 of 14 games to catch Brooklyn on the final day of the regular season.

In a best-of-three series to determine which club would win the pennant and meet the Yankees in the World Series, the Giants took Game 1 at Ebbets Field but lost the following day, 10-0, at the Polo Grounds. That set the stage for one of the most famous home runs in baseball history, as Bobby Thomson lined a Ralph Branca pitch into the left-field seats for a three-run walk-off homer to win the pennant for New York. It was deemed "The Shot Heard 'Round the World," and it vaulted the Giants into the Fall Classic, which they lost to the Yanks in six games.