The reward of clinching a postseason berth amidst the long grind of a 162-game season tends to produce some noteworthy celebrations. Whether it be taking a celebratory dip in the outfield pool at a visiting ballpark or jumping into the fountain at your own stadium, playoff-clinching victories typically provide the lasting images from the final week of the regular season.
That said, it's often teams that have long been eliminated from postseason contention that ultimately have the biggest influence on which teams advance to play October baseball.
After all, Evan Longoria's walk-off homer to clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the 2011 regular season isn't quite as dramatic if not for the last-place Orioles knocking off the Red Sox just minutes earlier. CC Sabathia carrying the Brewers to the postseason with his remarkable run to end the '08 season only happens with a little help from the Marlins taking care of business against the Mets. Then there's the 1982 season in which the Dodgers eliminated the Giants from postseason contention on the eve of the final day of the season, only to have the Giants return the favor the next day.
Here's a closer look at some of the biggest spoilers -- non-postseason teams that played a pivotal role in preventing another club from qualifying -- in Major League history (in reverse chronological order):
2016 Braves (vs. Tigers)
The Tigers seemed primed to earn a Wild Card spot down the stretch in 2016. Though they sat a half-game back of the Blue Jays with two to play, Detroit was finishing its season with an Interleague series against the last-place Braves. Toronto, meanwhile, was facing the first-place Red Sox, who were still battling for home-field advantage in their American League Division Series matchup with the Indians.
Detroit's postseason hopes came to an abrupt end on Saturday when Atlanta right-hander Aaron Blair held the Tigers to two runs over six innings, while racking up a career-high 10 strikeouts. Blair had entered the game with an 8.02 ERA in 14 starts and had never struck out more than five batters in any of his previous outings. The Blue Jays finished off a 4-3 victory over the Red Sox a half hour later to secure the final postseason spot.
2011 Orioles (vs. Red Sox)
The Red Sox had a two-game lead over the Rays for the AL Wild Card with eight games remaining, five of which were against the last-place Orioles. After dropping two straight to the O's and two of three to the Yankees, Boston's advantage had dropped to a single game entering its final three-game series in Baltimore. The Rays started their final set with a pair of wins over the first-place Yankees, while the Red Sox split their first two with the Orioles, moving the teams into a tie for the last playoff spot and setting the stage for one of the wildest sequences in Major League history on the final day of the 2011 season.
Trailing by one entering the bottom of the ninth, the O's rallied to tie the Red Sox before Robert Andino delivered a walk-off single in a 4-3 Baltimore victory. Just three minutes later, Longoria hit a dramatic walk-off homer in the 12th inning at Tropicana Field, sending the Rays to the playoffs and ending Boston's season in the process.
The Orioles, who began the season 3-8 against the Red Sox, went 5-2 against Boston over the final 10 days of the season en route to finishing 69-93 and a distant last place in the AL East.
2008 Marlins (vs. Mets)
Despite holding a 3 1/2-game lead in the NL East as late as Sept. 10, the Mets instead watched the Phillies claim the 2008 division title. Still, New York entered the final day of the regular season tied with the Brewers for the NL Wild Card spot. Milwaukee had to face the Cubs, who had already locked up the top seed in the NL, while the Mets were set to host a Marlins team that had been eliminated from postseason contention.
Carlos Beltran hit a game-tying two-run homer in the sixth, but Mets relievers Scott Schoeneweis and Luis Ayala allowed back-to-back homers to Wes Helms and Dan Uggla, respectively, to begin the eighth inning, sending the Mets to a season-ending 4-2 loss. As for the Brewers, Sabathia capped off his incredible stretch run for Milwaukee by allowing just one unearned run in a complete-game victory.
2007 Marlins (vs. Mets)
Prior to spoiling the Mets' postseason hopes in 2008, the Marlins had dealt a similar blow to New York just one year earlier. The Mets entered the final weekend of the '07 season tied with the Phillies atop the NL East. They were also both just one game behind the Padres for the NL Wild Card.
New York started its final series with a 7-4 loss at Shea Stadium to the last-place Marlins, while the Phillies shut out the Nationals, 6-0. Still, the teams once again found themselves tied with only one game remaining after the Mets rebounded with a win on Saturday and Philadelphia fell to the Nats.
The Mets handed the ball to Tom Glavine for the all-important final game, but the Hall of Famer did not make it out of the first inning. He was charged with seven runs while recording only one out, as the Marlins jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the top of the first. New York never recovered en route to an 8-1 loss, all while the Phillies coasted to a 6-1 division-clinching victory.
1999 Brewers (vs. Reds)
The Reds went into the final weekend of the 1999 regular season tied for the NL Central lead -- and with a two-game edge over the Mets for the NL Wild Card. Yet after dropping the first two games of the weekend to the Brewers, a team that finished 74-87 and 22 1/2 games out of first place, Cincinnati found itself tied for the Wild Card and one game back in the Central. While the Reds bounced back with a win in the season finale, the Astros also won to clinch the Central, while the Mets won on a walk-off wild pitch to force a one-game tiebreaker. The Reds continued their stumble to the finish line, dropping the winner-take-all contest in a 5-0 loss to the Mets.
1998 Rockies (vs. Giants)
Perhaps no team has gone through a wilder rollercoaster ride over a season's final week than the 1998 Giants. They sat four games out of the NL Wild Card spot with seven to play, but rattled off six straight wins to move into a tie with the Cubs for the final spot entering the season's last day.
The up-and-down run didn't end there. The Giants jumped out to a 7-0 lead against a sub-.500 Rockies team, only to watch Colorado rally to take an 8-7 lead. San Francisco, however, knotted the game at 8 before manager Dusty Baker received word that the Cubs had lost their final game in walk-off fashion. Less than one minute later, Giants all-star closer Robb Nen -- who entered the day with a 1.42 ERA and had allowed only three homers in 88 2/3 innings -- served up a walk-off homer to light-hitting infielder Neifi Perez. Perez hit only 64 home runs during his 12-year career.
The two walk-off losses less than a minute apart set up a one-game tiebreaker the following night in Chicago. The Cubs won, 5-3, ending the Giants' crazy ride.
1993 Dodgers (vs. Giants)
The Giants entered the final day of the 1993 regular season tied with the Braves for not only the National League West lead, but also the best record in the Majors at 103-58. While the Braves earned a 5-3 win over the Rockies behind Glavine, the Giants had their postseason hopes crushed in convincing fashion by the rival Dodgers. Los Angeles cruised to a 12-1 victory, with right-hander Kevin Gross throwing a complete game to lower his season ERA to 4.14.
With only the four division winners qualifying for the postseason at the time, the loss cost the Giants a shot at the playoffs, despite the fact that San Francisco's 103 wins were six more than any other team besides Atlanta.
1991 Giants (vs. Dodgers)
Two years before the Dodgers spoiled the Giants' 103-win season, San Francisco had pulled a similar stunt against Los Angeles. The Dodgers entered the season's final weekend tied atop the NL West with the Braves, but Los Angeles would be eliminated before Sunday even arrived.
Los Angeles dropped the first two games of its series against the Giants, getting outscored 8-1 in the process. Atlanta, meanwhile, began the weekend with a pair of wins over the last-place Astros to clinch the division title. The Giants finished the year 12 games under .500 at 75-87, and had a winning record against only one opponent -- the Dodgers. San Francisco won the season series, 10-8, thanks to those two wins that played a pivotal role in keeping Los Angeles out of the postseason.
1982 Giants and Dodgers (vs. each other)
When the Dodgers arrived in San Francisco for a three-game set to close out the 1982 season, it was inevitable that at least one team was going to play spoiler for its rival. As it turned out, they each put an end to one another's season.
The teams entered the series tied with one another, just one game back of the division-leading Braves. Los Angeles won the first two games of the series convincingly -- winning 4-0 on Friday and 15-2 on Saturday -- to eliminate the Giants. Yet with Atlanta also winning on both days, the Dodgers remained one game back entering the season's final day.
The Braves dropped their final game to the Padres, leaving the door open for the Dodgers to force a winner-take-all tiebreaker. That would not be necessary, however, as Joe Morgan hit a decisive three-run homer to lift the Giants to a 5-3 victory to end the Dodgers' season less than 24 hours after Los Angeles had done the same to San Francisco.
1967 Angels (vs. Tigers)
The race for the 1967 AL pennant was one of the most competitive in big league history. Four teams -- the Red Sox, Twins, Tigers and White Sox -- were separated by just a single game as late as Sept. 23. While the White Sox were finally eliminated on Sept. 29 (the Friday of the season's final weekend), the other three all had a shot at the pennant entering the final day.
The Red Sox and Twins were not only tied atop the AL, but playing one another in their final game. The Tigers, meanwhile, were a half-game back, but were closing the season with a doubleheader against the Angels. Thus, the scenario was simple: If the Tigers won both games, they would force a one-game tiebreaker against the Red Sox-Twins winner, but if Detroit lost even one game, the Red Sox-Twins winner would advance to the World Series.
Boston finished off its 5-3 victory around the same time that Detroit recorded the final out in a 6-4 win in Game 1 of the twin bill. With all eyes on the nightcap, the Tigers quickly jumped out to a 3-1 lead, only to watch the Angels respond with seven straight runs en route to an 8-5 season-ending loss for Detroit. Though the Red Sox claimed the pennant by one game over the Tigers and Twins, Boston ultimately came up one win shy in losing Game 7 of the World Series to the Cardinals.
1956 Cardinals (vs. Braves)
The 1956 Milwaukee Braves entered a season-ending three-game series in St. Louis with a one-game lead over the Brooklyn Dodgers atop the NL standings. The Braves dropped the series opener on Friday, moving the idle Dodgers to within a half-game. Things got much worse for Milwaukee on Saturday, with the Braves losing on a 12th-inning walk-off, all while the Dodgers swept a doubleheader against the Pirates to move Los Angeles a full game ahead of Milwaukee.
While the Braves rebounded with a win on Sunday, the Dodgers also closed out the season with a victory to maintain the one-game edge. The back-to-back losses to the sub-.500 Cardinals -- a team the Braves had swept in a four-game set in their previous meeting -- brought an abrupt end to Milwaukee's season.
1944 Senators (vs. Tigers)
The Tigers held a one-game lead atop the AL over the St. Louis Browns entering the final weekend of the 1944 season. The only thing standing in Detroit's way was a four-game set against the last-place Washington Senators. The Tigers split a doubleheader on Friday, while the Browns swept their own twin bill against the Yankees, moving the teams into a first-place tie.
They both won on Saturday to remain even, but the Senators knocked off Detroit in Sunday's series finale. The Browns completed a four-game sweep of the Yanks to overtake the Tigers and clinch the pennant. Tigers ace Dizzy Trout, who entered that final series with a 1.94 ERA over 339 1/3 innings in 47 appearances, was charged with both losses against the Senators. He had a 6.92 ERA over 13 innings in his two starts in the season-deciding series.
Paul Casella is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.