When the calendar flips to September, the excitement of the baseball season ratchets up and the margin for error becomes razor thin as teams battle to reach the postseason. There have been many memorable stretch-run performances over the years, and here's a look at the best one in each club's history:
The Angels went 18-9 in September to secure an American League Wild Card berth and return to the postseason for the first time since 1986. After defeating the Yankees in the AL Division Series and the Twins in the AL Championship Series, the Halos advanced to the World Series and rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to beat the Giants for their first and only championship in franchise history.
A star-studded Astros team that included Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell -- along with Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Jeff Kent, Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman -- underperformed for much of the season and was 56-60 in mid-August. Houston caught fire and went 36-10 down the stretch (20-7 in September), and the Astros secured the National League Wild Card spot on the final day of the season before losing to the Cardinals in seven games in the NL Championship Series.
The A's were five games behind the first-place Rangers with nine to play and won all but one of them, including six in a row to cap the regular season -- the final three against Texas. Oakland erased a 5-1 deficit on the final day of the season to secure sole possession of the AL West lead for the first time all year and claim its first ticket to the playoffs since 2006.
Blue Jays, 2015
The Blue Jays were eight games back of first place when they traded for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki on July 28, 2015. In the coming days, general manager Alex Anthopoulos decided to go all-in by acquiring David Price, Ben Revere and reliever Mark Lowe. By Aug. 12, the deficit in the standings was erased and Toronto took over with a half-game lead. The Blue Jays finished 42-18 over their final 60 games, including an 18-9 record in September to secure the club's first division crown since 1993.
Fueled by the acquisition of Fred McGriff, the Braves went from 10 games out on July 22 to 3 1/2 games back by the end of August. They completed a 104-win season by winning 22 of their last 29 games. A win combined with a Giants loss on the regular season's final day gave Atlanta its third consecutive NL West title.
Milwaukee sat just three games above .500 and five games back of the second NL Wild Card -- with two teams between it and the Cubs -- after a loss to Chicago on Sept. 5. Then, reigning MVP Christian Yelich, who was enjoying an even better season in 2019, broke his kneecap and was lost for the season five days later. Still, the Brewers persevered, riding an incredibly hot stretch from its pitching staff (MLB-best 3.01 ERA in September) to win 18 of 20 games -- and 12 of their first 14 after Yelich went down -- to vault into the second Wild Card and book their second straight postseason appearance.
Trailing the Phillies by 6 1/2 games with 13 games left on their schedule, the Cardinals surged up the NL standings with 10 wins over the season's final two weeks. They swept the Phillies during an eight-game win streak, clinched the NL pennant on the season's final day and went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series. Forty-seven years later, the Cards followed a similar script, erasing an 8 1/2-game deficit over their final 21 games en route to their 11th World Series championship. St. Louis was at it again in 2021, when a 17-game September win streak took the club from the fringes of the NL Wild Card race into the postseason.
The Cubs needed a late-season surge to win a Wild Card berth in manager Joe Maddon's first season. The team was 19-9 in August and went 23-9 in September/October. The Cubs won their last eight games of the season to finish one game behind the Pirates and three behind the division winner, the Cardinals. They weren't able to clinch the berth with a win. The Cubs had a magic number of one on Sept. 25 but lost to the Bucs. They still secured the Wild Card spot that night when the Giants lost to the A's on the West Coast. Jake Arrieta threw a complete-game shutout in the Wild Card win over the Pirates and the Cubs beat the Cardinals in the NLDS, but they were swept by the Mets in the NLCS.
The D-backs were just five games up on the second-place Giants after losing 6-2 to San Francisco on Sept. 2. But Arizona responded by taking the next two from the Giants, keying a 16-9 September run that would net them the NL West title and the organization's fifth postseason berth. The D-backs faced off against the Brewers in the NLDS and ended up losing in a five-game thriller on Nyjer Morgan's walk-off single in the 10th.
In a season when Tommy Davis broke his ankle, Sandy Koufax threw a perfect game and Juan Marichal took a bat to John Roseboro's head, it's easy to overlook that the Dodgers were 4 1/2 games back on Sept. 16, then reeled off 13 straight wins, with Koufax and Don Drysdale getting seven of them. They clinched the pennant with one game left in the regular season, as Koufax threw a four-hit complete game with 13 strikeouts on two days' rest. Then the Dodgers beat the Twins in the World Series, with Koufax throwing a three-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts in Game 7 on two days' rest.
Trailing Brooklyn by 13 games on Aug. 11, New York won 37 of its last 44 games to force a best-of-three playoff against the Dodgers for the NL pennant. The showdown ended with perhaps the most celebrated home run in baseball history: Bobby Thomson's three-run clout in the ninth inning of Game 3 that sent the Giants to the World Series.
The Indians went 33-4, including an AL-record 22-game winning streak, to finish 2017 as the AL's top seed. The Tribe rattled off 10 in a row to finish the 2013 season, winning a Wild Card spot. The best finish, however, belongs to the 1948 squad. Cleveland went 19-5 down the stretch to earn a one-game playoff against Boston for the AL pennant. The Indians beat the Red Sox, 8-3, and went on to win the World Series against the Boston Braves.
A Seattle franchise that had never made the postseason in its first 18 years put together one of the greatest late-season comebacks in MLB history, making up 11 1/2 games on the Angels in the final 36 games. In a strike-shortened season, the Mariners were 54-55 on Aug. 23, but they finished 25-11 with a "Refuse to Lose" club led by Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner, ultimately winning a one-game tiebreaker with the Halos to claim their first AL West title. The Mariners beat the Yankees, 3-2, in a dramatic AL Division Series before losing to the Indians in six games in the ALCS.
Their season seemingly over after falling 10 games under .500 in May, the Marlins completed their improbable climb into the postseason by going 18-8 in September, overtaking the Phillies for the NL Wild Card spot. Driven by manager Jack McKeon, who replaced Jeff Torborg in May, Florida went 42-25 after the All-Star break. Leading the late charge was brash right-hander Josh Beckett, who posted a 2.08 ERA in five September starts. Beckett went on to become the World Series Most Valuable Player, capping a storybook comeback season.
They're called the "Miracle Mets" for a reason. Ten games back in the NL East on Aug. 13, the Mets surged ahead of the Cubs on Sept. 10, punctuating their run with a pair of 1-0 wins in a Sept. 12 doubleheader in Pittsburgh. Pitchers Jerry Koosman and Don Cardwell combined for 17 shutout innings and drove home the only runs in those games for the Mets, who wound up winning the division by eight games -- and eventually the World Series, too.
Washington has had the fortune of owning a large lead in September each time it has won the NL East, but the 2014 Nationals were dominant to cap off the season's final month. The Nats went 19-8 in September, their highest winning percentage of any month that year, en route to clinching the division title on Sept. 16 in Atlanta to secure their spot in the postseason for the second time in team history.
Baltimore went 19-9 in September en route to securing its first playoff berth since 1997. The underdog Orioles put together a season-high six-game win streak from Sept. 16-22 to finish 93-69 and secure an AL Wild Card berth. The O's went on to win the AL Wild Card Game on the road at Texas, before falling in the ALDS in five games to the Yankees.
With three weeks remaining in the 1996 season, the Padres trailed the Dodgers in the NL West and the Expos for the Wild Card. They reeled off a 13-6 stretch to finish the year, one that included three walk-off wins and five in extras. Two of those extra-innings victories came during a dramatic final weekend in which San Diego swept Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium to secure its first division title in 12 years. The Padres scored runs in the eighth inning or later to win all three games, with Trevor Hoffman recording the save in each of them.
The Phillies trailed the Mets in the NL East by seven games with 17 to play in September 2007, but they went 13-4 the rest of the way, while the Mets went 5-12. The Phils clinched the division on the final day of the season, capping one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history.
The Pirates reeled off 24 wins in their final 36 games and entered the postseason as the hottest team in baseball. That stretch with the Majors' best winning percentage launched the Bucs from two games above .500 on Aug. 19 into the top NL Wild Card spot at 88-74. But Pittsburgh fell two games shy of the NL Central title and ended the year in frustrating fashion, as Madison Bumgarner pitched a shutout in the NL Wild Card Game at PNC Park.
The Rangers were 50-53 and eight games out on Aug. 1, one day after acquiring Cole Hamels from the Phillies. In his first media session in Texas, Hamels said he believed the Rangers could come back and win the division. His new teammates took that to heart and did just that by going 18-10 both in August and September, and then clinching the division on Oct. 4 -- the last day of the season -- with Hamels' complete-game victory over the Angels preventing a potential one-game tiebreaker with the Astros.
On Sept. 1, 2011, the Rays were third in the AL East standings and nine games out of first place. They proceeded to go on a 17-10 run, while the second-place Red Sox went 7-20. On the final day of the season, Boston lost while Tampa Bay defeated New York, 8-7, on Evan Longoria's walk-off home run to propel the Rays into the playoffs as the AL Wild Card winner.
Red Sox, 2004
It is sometimes forgotten that the fabled 2004 Red Sox -- who broke an 86-year championship drought -- played .500 ball from May 1-July 31. But Theo Epstein shook things up at the non-waiver Trade Deadline when he traded Nomar Garciaparra for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz while also acquiring Dave Roberts from the Dodgers. From Aug. 7 through the end of the regular season, the Sox went a blistering 40-15. In the postseason, they were 11-3, with all three losses coming at the start of the ALCS against the Yankees.
The Reds were 11 games out in the NL West on June 30 before they swept a doubleheader from the Dodgers on July 1. Hal King delivered a pinch-hit home run to win Game 1 and a 10th-inning single by Tony Perez won Game 2. Including those two wins, Cincinnati went 60-26 over the remainder of the season. The Reds entered September three games back, but they went 19-8 in the final month to finish 3 1/2 games in front and make the playoffs.
Colorado won 14 of its last 15 regular-season games, culminating with an unforgettable tiebreaking Game 163 against San Diego in which they won, 9-8, in 13 innings on Matt Holliday's famous (and disputed) slide into home. The Rockies then won seven straight playoff games to advance to the World Series before being swept by the Red Sox in the Fall Classic.
The 2014 Royals were a team of streaks as they dipped out of first place in the AL Central and into the race for one of the AL Wild Card spots. A late surge in September when they won five of six helped seal the first Wild Card spot, the clincher coming in Game 160 in Chicago with a 3-1 win over the White Sox as Jeremy Guthrie pitched seven shutout innings and Greg Holland notched his 46th save. Making the club's first playoff appearance in 29 years, Kansas City became the first team to start a postseason 8-0 as the Royals advanced all the way to Game 7 of the World Series before falling to the Giants.
The Tigers had a back-and-forth race with the Blue Jays all summer for the AL East lead, but they fell 3 1/2 games back with eight games to go. Detroit won six of its final eight, but four of those wins were against Toronto, including a three-game series sweep at Tiger Stadium to end the regular season. Frank Tanana clinched the division with a 1-0 win opposite Jimmy Key on the final day.
The Twins trailed the Tigers by 5 1/2 games on Sept. 12, but Minnesota won 16 of its final 20 games to force a one-game tiebreaker against Detroit in the last regular-season game played at the Metrodome. The Twins won in memorable fashion on a walk-off hit from Alexi Casilla in the 12th inning of Game 163 to win the AL Central for the fifth time in eight years.
White Sox, 2005
The White Sox closed September with an 8-2 record, but they won their last five games going into the postseason. That five-game streak included the AL Central division clincher in Detroit and then a three-game sweep in Cleveland to give the team 99 wins and knock the Indians from the playoffs. That Cleveland team had cut a 15-game division deficit on Aug. 1 to 1 1/2 games when this streak began. Factoring in the 11-1 playoff domination resulting in a World Series title, the White Sox finished the season on a 19-3 run.
The defending World Series champions were 14 games behind the Red Sox on July 17 as three big personalities -- owner George Steinbrenner, manager Billy Martin and slugger Reggie Jackson -- clashed repeatedly. Martin resigned one week later, and the Yankees completed a historic comeback under replacement Bob Lemon, going 48-20 (.706) the rest of the way, including the four-game "Boston Massacre" sweep at Fenway Park in early September, during which the Bombers outscored Boston, 42-9. A one-game tiebreaker for the division crown was marked by Bucky Dent's famous home run into the netting over the Green Monster. The Yanks dispatched the Royals in the ALCS and defeated the Dodgers in a six-game Fall Classic.