After their dramatic, stranger-than-fiction sweep of the Washington Nationals, the New York Mets now lead the NL East by seven games with 22 games left to play. Mets fans might recognize that number. Back in 2007, they also held a seven-game lead in September. With even fewer games remaining on the schedule. And blew it. Here are September's greatest -- worst? -- collapses of the wild-card era.
2012 Texas Rangers
Lead: The Rangers were five games up on the A's with nine to play and four games in front with six left. Heading to Oakland for a season-ending three-game series, they were still two games up. One win, and the AL West -- which they had led since the fourth game of the season -- would be theirs. What could go wrong?
What happened: The A's swept all three games as the Rangers stumbled to a 2-7 finish. Josh Hamilton hit .256 with 17 strikeouts and no walks in those final nine games, while the pitching staff posted a 6.04 ERA.
Most painful defeat: The final day of the season. The Rangers took a 5-1 lead over the A's after three innings. But in the fourth, the A's scored six runs off Ryan Dempster and Derek Holland. Hamilton's two-out error, when he dropped a fly ball, allowed two runs to score, and the A's went on to a 12-5 victory. The Rangers were shoved into the wild-card game against the Orioles and lost that one as well.
2011 Boston Red Sox
Lead: Entered September with a 1½-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East and a nine-game advantage on third-place Tampa Bay for the wild card.
What happened: After beating the Blue Jays 14-0 on Sept. 6, the Red Sox still had an eight-game lead over the Rays with 21 games remaining for both clubs. The Red Sox then went 5-16 and the Rays 14-7. The pitching was the biggest culprit, as the Red Sox allowed 139 runs, or 6.6 per game. Jon Lester went 0-3 with an 8.24 ERA over his final four starts, and Josh Beckett gave up six runs in each of his final two starts, losing both. Reliever Daniel Bard took losses in four of those 16 defeats.
Most painful defeat: Tied with the Rays for the wild card on the final day of the season, the Red Sox led the Orioles 3-2 entering the bottom of the ninth. Closer Jonathan Papelbon, in what would be his final appearance for the Red Sox, blew the lead on Robert Andino's two-out hit. When the Rays miraculously rallied from a 7-0 deficit to beat the Yankees 8-7 on Evan Longoria's 12th-inning home run, the collapse was complete.
2011 Atlanta Braves
Lead: The Phillies had a comfortable margin in the NL East, but the Braves were 80-55 and led the Cardinals by 8½ games for the wild card. Two days into September, it was 9½ games. What could go wrong?
What happened: The Braves went 8-17 the rest of the way, worst in the NL. The Cards went 17-7, best in the NL. Atlanta's offense averaged just 3.0 runs per game. The Braves went into St. Louis on Sept. 9 up 7½ games, but the Cardinals swept the three-game series, winning the opener with two runs off Craig Kimbrel in the ninth (Albert Pujols had a two-out, two-run single to tie it) and the winning run in the 10th. The Braves also lost their final five games.
Most painful defeat: The last one. The Cardinals had won behind a Chris Carpenter shutout, so the Braves needed a victory to force a tie. The Phillies tied it in the top of the ninth off Kimbrel and then won it in the 13th. Combined with the craziness in the Boston and Tampa Bay games, many called it the most exciting day in major league history.
2009 Detroit Tigers
Lead: On Sept. 7, the Tigers increased their lead in the AL Central to a season-high seven games over the Twins.
What happened: The Tigers lost their next five in a row and nine of 12. Still, with four games remaining, they held a three-game margin over the Twins. What could go wrong? The Twins beat them 8-3 on Thursday. Jake Peavy of the White Sox beat them 8-0 on Friday. Early Saturday morning, star slugger Miguel Cabrera was brought into custody when his wife called the police after Cabrera returned home at 6 in the morning. Drunk. After partying all night with members of the White Sox at the Townsend Hotel. General manager Dave Dombrowski had to pick Cabrera up at the police station. That night, Cabrera played and went 0-for-4, didn't hit the ball out of the infield and stranded six runners, as the Tigers lost 5-1. On Sunday, both the Tigers and Twins won, setting up a one-game playoff for the AL Central crown.
Most painful defeat: The tiebreaker game. Orlando Cabrera hit a two-run homer in the seventh to give the Twins the lead. Magglio Ordonez hit a game-tying homer in the eighth. Joe Nathan escaped a first-and-third, no-outs jam in the ninth for the Twins. Both teams scored in the 10th, the Twins benefiting when Tigers left fielder Ryan Raburn misplayed a fly ball into a triple. But Raburn redeemed himself by throwing a runner at home to keep the game tied. In the 12th, Brandon Inge appeared to get brushed by a pitch with the bases loaded -- no challenge rule back then! -- and instead grounded into a force play at home. The Twins then beat Fernando Rodney in the bottom of the inning. A great game that mostly only Twins and Tigers fans remember. Check out the highlights.
2007 New York Mets
Lead: They were seven games up on the Phillies with 17 left to play. What could go wrong?
What happened: The Mets stumbled to a 5-12 finish while the Phillies went 13-4, a stretch that started with a three-game sweep of the Mets at Shea Stadium. The Phillies won the opener in 10 innings, won the next game 5-3 with three runs in the eighth and then won 10-6 as the Mets committed six errors. While Pedro Martinez returned in September to make his only five starts of the season (he posted a 2.57 ERA), the rest of the staff staggered to the finish line, especially Tom Glavine, who allowed 25 hits and 17 runs in 10 1/3 innings over his final three starts.
Most painful defeat: Mets fans certainly remember the final day of the season, when the Mets and Phillies entered in a tie. Glavine gave up seven runs in the top of the first to the Marlins and the Phillies beat the Nationals, but 10 days before, the Mets led the Marlins 7-4 in the ninth inning before Jorge Sosa coughed up the lead and then lost it in the 10th.
"It's embarrassing," said injured closer Billy Wagner.
"This is just a tough life lesson in baseball," said manager Willie Randolph. "Any time you have an opportunity to finish the deal and don’t capitalize on it, it will come back to haunt you. And it sure did with us. The bottom line is that we spit away an opportunity to win the division. It's going to be a tough winter living with that."
The next season, the Mets had a 3½-game lead in September. They lost that one as well.
2004 Oakland A's
Lead: Up four games in early September, the A's held a three-game lead over the Angels with nine to play. While Billy Beane's teams of this era were known for their strong stretch runs, this A's team didn't deliver.
What happened: They went 3-6 in those final nine games and were outscored 46-25, while the Angels went 7-2. The teams were tied heading into a head-to-head showdown to close out the season. In the opener, Bartolo Colon pitched seven scoreless frames, while Mark Mulder and Joe Blanton got blasted in a 10-0 victory for the Angels. That set up a must-win game for the A's on Saturday.
Most painful defeat: The A's led 4-2 after seven innings, but Barry Zito was done after 114 pitches. Jim Mecir, Ricardo Rincon and Octavio Dotel couldn't hold the lead, however, and Garret Anderson's two-out single lifted the Angels to a 5-4 victory and the AL West title.
1995 California Angels
Lead: On Aug. 20, they led the Rangers by 9½ games and the Mariners by 12½. Entering September, the lead was still a comfortable 7½ games over both clubs. What could go wrong?
What happened: The Angels lost nine in a row in late August and early September and then nine in a row again from Sept. 13-23. Manager Marcel Lachemann used a four-man rotation of Chuck Finley, Mark Langston, Jim Abbott and Shawn Boskie in September, and the starters went 7-14 with a 5.74 ERA the final month. The Angels did rally to win their final five in a row to set up a one-game tiebreaker with the Mariners.
Most painful defeat: Langston faced off against Randy Johnson -- two guys once traded for each other -- before 52,000-plus fans in the Kingdome hoping to see the Mariners reach the postseason for the first time ever. Seattle led 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh, when Luis Sojo came up with the bases loaded and two outs and hit a broken-bat bouncer down the first-base line that ended up clearing the bases, Sojo came all way around to score as well. Randy Johnson finished it from there, and the Mariners won 9-1.