- Last Updated: 1:05 PM, August 5, 2012
- Posted: 2:08 AM, August 5, 2012
Collapses do not belong exclusively to this era. You don’t need to do more than identify the 1914 Giants, the ’51 Dodgers, the ’64 Phillies, the ’69 Cubs and the ’78 Red Sox to know what the subject is.
But there has been a cluster in recent seasons that is hard to find at any other time in history. The 2007 Mets blew a 7 1⁄2-game with 17 to play and the 2008 Mets failed to hold a 3 1⁄2-game edge with 17 to go. The 2009 Tigers led the Twins by three games with four remaining and ultimately lost a one-game playoff to Minnesota to miss the postseason.
And 2011 was a year that will live in collapse infamy. The Braves led the Cardinals by 10 1⁄2 games for the wild card on Aug. 25. On Sept. 3, the Red Sox beat the Yankees to move 30 games over .500, 1 1⁄2 games ahead of the Yanks in the AL East and nine games ahead of Tampa. At that moment, Boston had better than a 99-percent chance of making the playoffs. Like the Braves, however, Boston epically failed to reach the postseason.
So is this all coincidence that we have this compilation of collapses and two of the greatest ever in one season? Or is there something more going on? The most obvious item is that more teams make the playoffs now and, thus, pure math will show there simply are more races per year that can be blown than in the past. This year there is a second wild card in each league to win — or not.
But it is deeper than that. Before wild cards, more teams used to concede earlier in the season by making trades or calling up prospects. But the carrot of the wild card(s) keeps a greater number of teams chasing potential pipedreams and, thus, deepens the pool for a shocking late run.
For example, the Yankees led the AL East by 10 games on July 18. That is by far the biggest lead any first-place team has had this year (the Dodgers’ 7 1⁄2-game lead over the Giants in May is the second). The trade deadline was fewer than two weeks away, and without wild cards there would have been an impetus for the other AL East clubs to sell. Instead, all four remained buyers.
When this weekend began, both Tampa Bay and Baltimore were 6 1⁄2 behind the Yankees. It is the kind of lead that history says is comfortable. But recent history does suggest not getting too comfortable.
And if the lead keeps narrowing then Casey McGehee’s new team will have to cope with something Casey Stengel’s never did: the relentless 24/7 flow of noise. Think about how New York has been besieged with Linsanity and Tebow. Now imagine the inexorable cacophony that would exist on sports radio, Twitter and every other competing outlet that dispenses opinion and animus. I do think that was a factor in those collapses last year: The inability to escape the pressure and the realities of a shrinking lead even long after the games were done. There is little — or maybe no — sanctuary for athletes to escape to if they are trapped in the collapse vortex.Follow @NYPostsports