There are few things more satisfying in the world of Major League Baseball than a historic pennant chase. As the dog days of summer turn into tense September matchups, divisional foes set their sights on each other with the glory of the postseason as their prize.
Baseball history is full of engaging late-season battles for the division title. Some represented the best of a team’s ability to overcome odds, while others were late-season collapses that led to firings and the end of dynasties.
Here are the top 10 division races in the history of Major League Baseball:
10. 2008 NL East, Mets-Phillies
When the New York Mets posted an 82-63 record and held a 3 1/2-game lead on the Philadelphia Phillies in September of 2008, there was no way they would lose the division lead (again), right? Wrong. For the second straight season, the Mets would blow a three-plus game lead in the final month of the season and miss the playoffs. To make matters worse, they controlled their own fate heading into the last game of the season, needing a win versus the Florida Marlins to win a wild-card spot. They lost 4-2.
9. 1969 NL East, Mets-Cubs
With a record of 69-51, it looked to be a solid but hardly spectacular 1969 season for the New York Mets. Nonetheless, they finished the year with a 31-11 record, crushing the playoff hopes of the Chicago Cubs, who went from owning the division lead by nine games to ultimately finishing eight games out of first. It was the first time in the history of the New York Mets that they finished better than ninth place and marked the year of their first World Series championship.
8. 1995 AL West, Angels-Mariners
Owning an 11-game lead in mid-August of 1995, the California Angels looked to be a lock for the AL West title. However, the Angels managed to win just 14 of 44 games (including losing nine straight twice) before rallying to win the season’s final five games. Finishing in a tie with the Seattle Mariners, they lost a one-game playoff for the division crown when Randy Johnson threw a complete 12 strikeout-game in a 9-1 Mariners victory.
7. 1971 NL West, Giants-Dodgers
The NL West division race looked to be over as the San Francisco Giants owned a 8 1/2-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers with just 24 games left in the season. That’s when the Giants lost 11 of their next 12 (five to the Dodgers), closing the gap to just one game by September 14. Both teams posted pedestrian 6-7 records the remainder of the way, and Juan Marichal threw a complete-game victory to close out the year to give the Giants first place in the West.
6. 1988 AL East, Red Sox-Yankees-Tigers-Brewers-Blue Jays
On Sept. 18, the Red Sox had just defeated the New York Yankees for the third straight day and held a six-game lead on their opponents in the AL East. That’s when they went into free-fall, losing nine of 13. Nonetheless, the Yankees were swept by the fading Tigers in their final three games of the season, while both the Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers had dug too deep of holes to overtake the Sox. All five teams finished within 3 1/2 games of first place.
5. 1973 NL East, Mets-Cardinals-Pirates
On Sept. 17, 1973, the New York Mets went into Pittsburgh to face the Pirates, trailing the division leaders by 2 1/2 games, despite a mediocre 73-77 record. The St. Louis Cardinals were also in the hunt for the division with a record of 73-75. After defeating the Pirates four out of five games, the Mets swept a two-game series from St. Louis. The Mets never owned a lead of greater that 1 1/2 games over the season’s final 10 days and held off the Pirates as Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver won the last two contests of the regular season.
4. 1974 NL East, Pirates-Cardinals
The Pittsburgh Pirates had a horrific start to the 1974 season, winning just six of 18 games in April and 11 of 26 in May. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies were in the midst of a divisional struggle that seemed destined to last the entire season. As the Phillies faded in August, the Pirates finally caught the Cards in mid-September in a division battle that would see first place change hands six times during the season’s last 18 days. Winning 11 of the last 14 contests of the year, the Pirates took the division by 1 1/2 games.
3. 1980 NL West, Astros-Dodgers
With three games left in the regular season, the Houston Astros owned a three-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers. As luck would have it, the Astros traveled to Los Angeles for the final series of the season. The Dodgers won the first two games and took a third on the the final day of the season, beating the Astros 4-3. Trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Ron Cey hit a two-run homer to lead the Dodgers to a victory and a one-game playoff the following day in L.A. Thanks to a strong pitching performance by Joe Niekro, Houston won the game 7-1 and the pennant.
2. 1991 NL West, Braves-Dodgers
From the beginning of the 1991, it was obvious that the NL West would be a two-team race between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. As it turned out, it would be one of the greatest two-team battles in the history of baseball. From Aug. 22 on, neither team would own more that a two-game lead over the other, and they wound up trading the division lead 10 times. Winning their remaining six road games, the Braves took over the division lead on October 4 and clinched the pennant on the season’s final day.
1. 1978 AL East, Yankees-Red Sox
After 95 games, the New York Yankees were in disarray. Billy Martin was fired as manager after an altercation with Reggie Jackson in the dugout during a game with the Red Sox, and New York was behind its rivals by as many as 14 games in July. Thanks to an incredible run that saw the Yankees win 42 of their last 59 games (while the Red Sox went 34-26 over the same period of time), the two teams met in a one-game playoff. Thanks to a Bucky Dent three-run homer in the seventh, the Yankees defeated the Red Sox 5-4 to capture the AL East crown.
Robert Watkins is former investment professional and partner. A New York resident until 9/11, he considers Pa. his adoptive home. A passionate Yankees fan and Pennsylvania sports enthusiast, Robert is a frequent contributor to Yahoo! Sports and News.