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Thursday, September 13, 2012
Here come the Phillies and Brewers


September History Watch: Brewers/Phillies Edition

Do you believe in reincarnation?

Evidently, the Brewers and Phillies do. They were done. They were dead. They were defunct. They were history.

And now, whaddaya know, they're breathing again -- and sitting on a chance to make history.

What kind of history, you ask? The September History Watch is happy to fill you in:

• The Brewers were 13 games back in the second-wild-card race on Aug. 6. Want to know how many teams in history have ever been that far out in a race for any postseason spot on Aug. 6 or later and lived to play a postseason game? Exactly one: Bobby Thomson's 1951 "Giants Win the Pennant" Giants, who were 13 behind the Dodgers as late as Aug. 11. Heard of them?

• So how many teams have ever been 13 or more games out in any race, at any point in August and scrambled their way into the postseason? Thanks for asking. The answer: Just two -- those '51 Giants and Edgar Martinez's 1995 Mariners, who were 13 back of the Angels as late as Aug. 2.

• But wait. The Phillies can top that. They were 13½ out in that very same race, for that very same second-wild-card spot, on Aug. 8. So if they make the playoffs, they'll be in totally uncharted territory -- because no team has ever trailed by that many games on Aug. 8 or later and made it to the postseason.

• And if the Phillies somehow complete this comeback, they'd be only the third team in history to play a postseason game after trailing by 13½ games at any point in a season. Anybody remember the other two teams? That would be Possum Whitted's 1914 "Miracle" Braves (15 back on July 5) and Reginald M. Jackson's 1978 Yankees (14 out on July 19).

• But hold on. We're still not through. The Phillies were 10 games behind the Cardinals as recently as Aug. 29. (Yep, that was 15 games ago.) So how many teams have ever trailed by double digits as late in the calendar year as Aug. 29 and survived to play in the postseason? Not a one. Here's that leaderboard:

• The Brewers, meanwhile, were 12½ games out in that race on Aug. 19. So they could become just the second team to reach the postseason after being that far back on Aug. 19 or later. The other? Those 1995 Mariners, who were still 12½ behind as late as Aug. 20.

• Finally, there's one more historic possibility for this Phillies team. On July 13, the day after the All-Star break, this group dropped to 14 games under .500 (37-51). And if you're counting up the list of teams to make the postseason after descending that deep into the canyon below Mount .500, you won't need many fingers. Here they come:

And that's it. Now, it's true that neither of those teams was that far below .500 in the second half of the season. So that's more uncharted territory. But it's also true that neither of them had a carrot known as the second wild card to chase, either.

So we need to acknowledge that not all history is created equal, when you're comparing eras with 10 postseason slots to eras with two or four. And acknowledge it we do. In fact, we just did.

But fortunately for humanity, us September History Watchers are here to chart the pursuit of history in all its shapes, sizes and permutations. And just because the kind of history the Brewers and Phillies are chasing isn't quite the kind of history the Bobby Thomson Giants were chasing doesn't mean it isn't just about as hard to comprehend. Right?