As Boston continues to make its push to win the team’s first division title since 1995, a once-comfortable, double-digit lead has shrunk to five games through games played last night. While this may be a cause for concern to some Red Sox fans, records show that in franchise history, Boston has more often than not managed to stay the course and maintain this lead through the end of regular season play. Fifteen times, the Red Sox have held or shared the lead at the end of play on 22 August and gone on to win a division title or the pennant eleven times. The largest lead ever held at this date was a 13-1/2 game divisional lead in 1995, while Boston was tied for the lead in the American League pennant chase in 1967, two years before divisional play began.
Only three times has Boston failed to make the playoffs with a lead this late in the season, all within the remarkable span of five years. In 1974, the Red Sox held a 6-1/2 game lead over the second place Indians and a seven-game lead over the third-place Orioles, but a severe late-season slump put Boston in third-place at the end of the regular season, seven games behind Baltimore. Three years later, Boston held just a half-game lead over second-place New York. Despite going 26-15 over the remainder of the season, the Red Sox would tie for second with the Orioles as the Yankees went 28-11 over that same stretch to win the division by 2-1/2 games.
In 1978, the Sox owned a seven-game lead over the second-place Milwaukee Brewers and a 7-1/2 game lead over the third-place Yankees, but another collapse, marked by the infamous “Boston Massacre” in early September, dropped Boston as far as 3-1/2 games behind New York. An eight-game win streak to end the season put the two teams in a first-place tie, forcing a one-game playoff at Fenway Park. Unfortunately for Boston, thanks in part to light-hitting Bucky Dent’s three-run home run for New York, the visitors prevailed with a 5-4 win, leaving the Red Sox out of the playoff picture.
Only one other time has Boston held a lead at this point in the season and not gone on to win a division title or the pennant, but the Red Sox still made post-season play. In 2005, the club held a 3-1/2 game lead over second-place New York and the lead would get as high as four games on 10 September but, thanks in part to a late-season surge by the Yankees, the two teams would finish with identical 95-67 records. However, New York had won the season series between the two teams 10-9, with the Yankees needing just one win in a season-ending three-game series in Boston to ensure this, thereby giving the Bombers their ninth straight division title. However, the Red Sox would still end up in the post-season as the wild card team.