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Tuesday, January 06, 2004 - Page updated at 01:50 P.M.

Major League Baseball
Ten great moments in pennant races

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1. Maybe the most emotionally charged pennant race in history occurred in 1920, when the Indians overcame the death of shortstop Ray Chapman, hit in the head and killed by a pitch thrown by the Yankees' Carl Mays on Aug. 16. The White Sox wilted as contenders in the final week when eight players were suspended as suspects in throwing the 1919 World Series. Babe Ruth, who raised the home-run record from 29 to 54, was also a factor with the third-place Yankees.

2. In the most emphatic pennant-race finale ever, Mike Scott of Houston fired a no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants on Sept. 25, 1986, as the Astros clinched the National League West championship.

3. No one had worse pennant-race karma than Al Widmar, who was the pitching coach of both the 1964 Phillies, who blew a 6-1/2-game lead with 12 to play, and the '87 Blue Jays, who lost their final seven games and were swept in a three-game, season-ending series by the Tigers, when just one win would have clinched a tie with Detroit for the AL East title.

4. One of the most fabled pennant races occurred in 1978, when the Yankees came back from 14 games behind in July to tie the Red Sox, then beat them in a one-game playoff for the AL East title. One possible factor in the Yankees' surge: The New York newspapers, teeming with "Bronx Zoo" turmoil all year as Billy Martin was fired and replaced by Bob Lemon, went on strike Aug. 10 and didn't publish the rest of the season. Lemon and others said the absence of hyperbolic coverage led to a more relaxed atmosphere that helped fuel a 22-7 streak.

5. Baltimore's Roberto Alomar hawked himself into dubious pennant-race history when he spit at umpire John Hirschbeck after being thrown out of a Sept. 27, 1996, game in Toronto for arguing a called third strike. Infuriated umpires threatened to boycott the playoffs when Alomar received only a five-game suspension, to be served the next year because of his appeal. Alomar, meanwhile, hit a 10th-inning home run the next night in Baltimore to clinch a wild-card berth.

6. Atlanta's Otis Nixon became another pennant race antihero in 1991 when, in mid-September with the Braves locked in a tight battle with the Dodgers, he was suspended for the remainder of the season after testing positive for cocaine. Nixon was the Braves' catalyst with a .297 average and a league-leading 72 stolen bases, but they still held off the Dodgers by one game and wound up winning the NL pennant.

7. Everyone remembers Bobby Thomson and 1951, but the Dodgers were victimized in 1950 as well by a pennant-winning home run in the last inning of the last game. In a pennant race that doesn't get quite the acclaim it should, the Phillies' Whiz Kids wrapped up the NL title at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, 4-1, on Dick Sisler's three-run home run in the top of the 10th. The Dodgers would have forced a playoff with a victory, but center fielder Richie Ashburn threw out the potential winning run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth.

8. In August of 1964, the Yankees were reeling after losing four straight. On the team bus, infielder Phil Linz began playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on his harmonica. An angry manager Yogi Berra told him to stop. Linz asked Mickey Mantle what Berra said. "He said play louder," Mantle told Linz. Berra stormed back to confront Linz, and fined him $250 (Linz later got a $5,000 endorsement deal from the Hohner Harmonica Co.). The Yankees came together after that incident, winning 22 of their final 30 to overcome a five-game deficit.

9. The Dean brothers, Dizzy and Paul, were instrumental in helping the "Gashouse Gang" Cardinals come from 5-1/2 games behind the Giants in mid-September to win the 1934 pennant. Dizzy won three games in the last six days of the season, while Paul pitched a no-hitter on Sept. 21. The two combined for 49 wins, 30 by Dizzy.

10. Comedian George Burns, portraying God in the movie "Oh God!," remarks that his only recent miracle was the '69 Cubs. "After that, you have to go back to the parting of the Red Sea," he said.


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