Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nate Silver Rubs It In: The Red Sox's Epic Meltdown, By The Numbers

Did the New York Times' Master Geek Nate Silver write this exposé of the Boston Red Sox late season meltdown, which let the Tampa Bay Rays in through the playoffs back door courtesy of the New York Yankees, just to torment Rachel Maddow? (Nate usually reserves his probabilities expertise to polling and politics.) But if Nate's numbers baffle, there's always the conspiratorial view of sports. Here's the New York Times account of those dramatic eight minutes that sealed the fate of two teams. Can anybody say, "yeah, right"?
“Within eight minutes the world changed,” said Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who was one of several Yankees players monitoring both games in the clubhouse. “That’s what makes baseball the greatest game.”

As the clock approached midnight, the Orioles came back to tie the Red Sox with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and when the score was relayed to the fans at Tropicana Field, their cheers let the Rays know what was happening up north.

A few minutes later, the Orioles won their game on a walk-off single by Robert Andino, and as the cheers went up again, Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist turned to his teammates in the dugout and said: “This is our game now. We have to win this now.”

At 12:05 a.m. Thursday morning, they did. Evan Longoria, the Rays’ most talented player and the face of the franchise, ripped a 2-2 pitch from Scott Proctor over the low part of the left-field fence and the Rays completed two improbable comebacks, beating the Yankees, 8-7, in 12 innings to win the American League wild card.

After trailing the Red Sox by nine games on Sept. 4, the Rays overcame the largest September deficit in major league history to make the playoffs, unleashing a wild celebration in the process.

“I don’t think there’s any specific explanation for it,” said Longoria, who also hit a three-run home run as part of a wild comeback in the eighth inning. “It’s just a bunch of guys who put together an incredible season.”
Oh really, Mr. Longoria? Here's one "specific explanation": Maybe the fix was in; not for an entire game, but for one inning, maybe even one at-bat. Consider this sequence of events: The Yanks improbably blow a 7-run lead to the Rays — the fastidious Mr. Silver calculalted the chances of this happening at 0.2% while the Red Sox had what can only be termed as a 99.6% metaphysical mortal lock probability of making the playoffs; the game is tied going into extra innings early Thursday morning; the players are tired and want to get off the field, especially the Yanks, for whom this is a meaningless (wink-wink) game; the fans erupt as news of the Red Sox defeat to the Orioles flashes on the scoreboard; then Longoria, their franchise player, seals the Red Sox fate by ripping a (telegraphed? batting practice?) Yanks pitch over the fence.

Hollywood ending? Cinderella finish? Or A-Rod — "who was one of several Yankees players monitoring both games in the clubhouse"— huddling with his millionaire teammates fixin' to inflict some more of the Babe's Curse on their arch-rivals by playing sports gods with a double-whammy: The Yanks clinch a playoff berth and are instrumental in keeping the Red Sox out ... against the same team and principal beneficiary, the Tampa Bay Rays! Sealed with a fist pump. Yep, and it's happened before, too. On the World Cup stage. Just sayin'. Kidding. Maybe. Is Henry Kissinger a Yankees fan, too?

Should that mysterious cosmic force sometimes called "Bad Karma" hit the Yankees during the playoffs, we'll know for sure the fix was in.

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