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In First on September First: Hang On
2004-08-31 01:44
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

Leading is easy, clinching is hard.

Even with a healthy lead in your pennant race, a relative eternity awaits before you get to raise the flag. This invites a tension that more often than not will be more than is necessary.

Most of the time you win with a September 1 lead - but you lose just enough to make it interesting.

Since moving to Los Angeles for the 1958 season, the Dodgers have been in first place, or tied for first, 13 times on September 1. Nine of those times, the Dodgers have made it to the next round - but the earliest they have clinched was three weeks into the month, with 11 games to spare. The finish line is almost always a little farther away than you'd like.

Here's the good news for this year's Dodger team - unless you believe in jinxes. Even if they lose a game tonight, the Los Angeles Dodgers have never blown a September 1 lead like the one they've earned in 2004.

With a lead of two games or fewer on September 1, the Dodgers have lost as many titles as they've won - three good, three bad. Out of seven September 1 leads of more than two games, the Dodgers have successfully closed out six. The biggest September 1 lead they have blown was 3 1/2 games, in 1962. (It was even worse than that, as you'll recall or see below. And 1973 was nothing to smile about, either...)

Dodger Teams in First Place on September 1

1997

Team: 9/1 ... Rest of Year ... Final
Dodgers: 78-60 ... 10-14 ... 88-74
Giants: 76-62 ... 14-10 ... 90-72

Key moments: The Giants tied the Dodgers on September 11 and moved a game up on September 12. The Dodgers rallied to catch the Giants two days later and then went two games up on September 16. Infamously, the Giants swept a two-game series September 17-18, with one-run victories in both games, sending the Dodgers into a five-game losing streak that knocked them into second place for the remainder of the season.

1995

Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Dodgers: 61-57 ... 17-9 ... 78-66
Rockies: 60-57 ... 17-10 ... 77-67

Key moments: The Dodgers fell out of first place on September 2, regained the lead September 4, were tied for the better part of a week (September 6-10), then fell into second place for two weeks. A 4-3 victory over the Rockies gave Los Angeles the lead September 25, but the Dodgers lost the next day. They took the lead for good with a 7-4 victory September 27 and held on for the final three days of the season.

1991

Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Braves: 72-58 ... 22-10 ... 94-68
Dodgers: 72-58 ... 21-11 ... 93-69

Key moments: In the first of several topsy-turvy Septembers for Los Angeles in the 1990s, the Dodgers trailed the Braves when September 1 began, but tied them at the end of the day, then went up on September 4. No more than two games separated the teams for the remainder of the season. The lead changed hands seven times, with the Dodgers holding the lead from September 21 (thanks to a 2-1 victory over Atlanta) until the Braves tied it October 2. Atlanta went up for good on October 4, and clinched the division with one day to spare October 5.

1988

Team: 9/1 ... Rest of Year ... Final
Dodgers: 77-55 ... 17-12 ... 94-67
Astros: 71-62 ... 11-18 ... 82-80
Giants: 70-63 ... 13-16 ... 83-79
Reds: 68-64 ... 19-10 ... 87-74

Key moments: The Astros cut the Dodger lead to four games on September 9, then faded. The Reds made something of a late run but had too much ground to make up, with the Dodgers clinching the division on September 26 with six games to spare.

1985

Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Dodgers: 74-53 ... 21-14 ... 95-67
Padres: 69-60 ... 14-19 ... 83-79
Reds: 68-60 ... 21-12 ... 89-72

Key moments: A breeze, mostly. Leading by as many as 9 1/2 games, the Dodgers lost five out of six, allowing the Reds to slice the lead to 4 1/2. That was the worst of it, though, and the Dodgers clinched on October 2.

1983

Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Dodgers: 77-56 ... 14-15 ... 91-71
Braves: 76-58 ... 12-16 ... 88-74

Key moments: Tension but no drama - the Dodgers never relinquished their lead, but did not clinch until their 160th game, September 30.

1978

Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Dodgers: 80-54 ... 15-13 ... 95-67
Giants: 78-57 ... 11-16 ... 89-73
Reds: 73-61 ... 19-8 ... 92-69

Key moments: The Dodgers were never threatened, leading by as many as 9 1/2 games, a cushion plenty large enough to withstand the Reds winning nine of their final 10. Clinch day was September 24 - game 156.

1977

Team: 9/1 ... Rest of Year ... Final
Dodgers: 80-53 ... 18-11 ... 98-64
Reds: 72-62 ... 16-12 ... 88-74

Key moments: The Dodgers, who started the season 22-4, played strong to the finish. They accelerated to a 13 1/2-game lead early in September and posted their earliest clinch in Los Angeles: September 20, game 151.

1974

Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Dodgers: 84-49 ... 18-11 ... 102-60
Reds: 81-53 ... 17-11 ... 98-64

Key moments: The Reds beat the Dodgers in Los Angeles on September 13 and 14 to cut the Cincinnati deficit to 1 1/2 games. The next day, behind a Jimmy Wynn seventh-inning grand slam and a Don Sutton complete game, the Dodgers defeated the Reds, 7-1, to stem the tide. The Reds lost five of seven games, and not even a six-game winning streak near season's end could rescue them. Still, the Dodgers didn't wrap up the division until the season's second-to-last day, October 1.

1973

Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Dodgers: 83-53 ... 12-13 ... 95-66
Reds: 81-55 ... 18-8 ... 99-63

Key moments: No one ever talks about 1973, but this was one of the most miserable collapses in Dodger history. From August 31 through September 12, the Dodgers dropped nine consecutive games and 11 of 12 - needing only two weeks to turn a four-game lead into a five-game deficit. On September 16, the Reds' lead grew to 6 1/2 games. The Dodgers trimmed the margin back to 4 1/2 games in time for a three-game series with the Reds beginning September 21, but lost the first two, including an 11-9 defeat in which Sutton was KOed in a seven-run first inning. Cincinnati clinched September 24 - game 157.

1965

Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Dodgers: 75-59 ... 22-6 ... 97-65
Reds: 74-58 ... 15-15 ... 89-73
Giants: 72-57 ... 23-10 ... 95-67
Braves: 72-60 ... 14-16 ... 86-76
Pirates: 73-62 ... 17-10 ... 90-72
Phillies: 68-63 ... 17-13 ... 85-76

Key moments: Three teams began the month within half a game of the lead, with three others within 5 1/2 games. San Francisco made the strongest move, tying the Dodgers with a 3-1 victory over Los Angeles on September 7 (the teams' last head-to-head meeting) and taking over the league lead a day later. On September 16, both the Dodgers and Reds trailed the Giants by 4 1/2 games. So what did the Dodgers do? They finished the season on a 15-1 run, tying the Giants on the 26th, passing them on the 28th and clinching the league title October 2 (game 161).

1963

Team: 9/1 ... Rest of Year ... Final
Dodgers: 81-54 ... 18-9 ... 99-63
Cardinals: 75-60 ... 18-9 ... 93-69
Giants: 74-62 ... 14-12 ... 88-74

Key moments: By September 15, the Cardinals had reduced the Dodgers' six-game lead to one, just in time for a three-game series between the two teams in St. Louis. Los Angeles swept the series and never looked back, clinching the division September 24 (game 157).

1962

Team: 9/1 ... Rest of Year ... Final
Dodgers: 89-47 ... 13-16 ... 102-63
Giants: 85-50 ... 18-12 ... 103-62

Key moments: This one, people talk about. On September 22, the Dodgers recorded their 100th victory. They led the National League by four games with seven to play in the regular season. But they lost six of their final seven, including a 1-0 defeat at home against St. Louis on the season's final day, and fell into a tie with San Francisco. A three-game playoff followed, with the Giants routing Sandy Koufax, 8-0, in the opener, losing 8-7 in the middle game, then winning, 6-4, in the finale - with a four-run ninth inning in Los Angeles.

Thanks, Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.

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