What Goes Aroundby Larry Mahnken
October 20, 2004
Chalk one up for the statheads. While the mainstream media was writing the Red Sox off... the statheads were writing the Red Sox off.
But there was one important difference. The mainstream reported that of the 25 teams to go down 0-3, only five had won a game, only two had won two, and none had ever won three. The statheads pointed out that not only were 25 series too small a sample, but that it lacked context. The fact that only five teams had ever extended the series indicated that for the most part, the team that went up 3-0 was up 3-0 because they were clearly the better team. If teams were evenly matched, the odds of coming back were not 0/25, but 1/16. If they won a game, they would be 1/8. Win two, it's 1/4.
Now it's 1/2. 50-50. That nobody's ever come all the way back is irrelevant. Boston's odds of winning the pennant are equal to the Yankees'.
There are two myths competing here: the "Curse", and "Mystique and Aura". The latter has the virtue that it's based a little bit in reality. There is something special about the Yankees, and they've been getting breaks for decades. They've gotten so many of those breaks that when they happen, it's not really all that surprising. The problem is that people have come to almost expect those things to happen. The fallacy is the same as it is with "The Curse". These things have happened; the Red Sox have lost in excruciating fashion, and the Yankees have won in surprising fashion. But just because they have happened in the past doesn't mean they will happen again. Perhaps there is some small psychological factor, an "oh no, here we go again" for the Red Sox or the Yankees' opponents, but it doesn't come close to explaining all, or even most, of the history of these two clubs.
Eventually, probability was going to have to catch up. Eventually, a team would come back from 0-3. Eventually, the Yankees wouldn't get the big break. Eventually, the Red Sox would win.
Obviously, the Red Sox haven't won yet, except in the 1975 "we won 3-4" sense. But something important happened last night, as the Red Sox were on their way to forcing a Game Seven. The Yankees started to come back, and they didn't.
In the eighth inning, with one out, Miguel Cairo ripped a double, and Derek Jeter singled him home. Now the tying run was at the plate in the person of Alex Rodriguez. If there was a Curse, if the ghosts at Yankee Stadium liked to show up and win baseball games, now would be the time.
And suddenly, exactly what everyone was waiting for happened. Rodriguez hit a ground ball that was fielded by Bronson Arroyo, and as he ran towards first, the ball came flying out of Arroyo's glove and down the right field line. Jeter scored, Rodriguez ran to second, and the Yankees had the tying run in scoring position with one out.
But there was a problem. The ball had flown out of Arroyo's glove for a very specific reason -- Rodriguez had knocked it out. Not by hitting the glove hard with his body, but by swatting Arroyo's wrist with his hand, a specific violation of the rules. The first base umpire hadn't seen the play, but others had, and in a conference, the call was overturned. Rodriguez was out, Jeter was back at first, and while the Yankees still had the tying run at-bat, the air had left Yankee Stadium.
Baseballs and debris came raining onto the field, as Yankees fans, unable to see what had really happened, or know what had really happened, protested what seemed to be a rip-off. They were wrong, and their actions were even more so, but what was more important than any of that was that the Yankees hadn't gotten a break. They didn't get a single break the entire game, and at this most crucial moment, their rally failed. Sheffield made out, and the Yankees were still down two.
They did get one last chance, putting two on with two outs in the ninth, but there was an eerie quiet at The Stadium. Maybe it was the failed rally the previous inning, or the shock of blowing a 3-0 lead, or maybe it was the riot police who came out in the top of the ninth (where did they all come from, anyway? Do they keep them in the equipment room?), but the crowd was on its hands. Clark struck out, the game was over, and the Red Sox had come all the way back.
There is a sentiment that perhaps this is just a tease to Red Sox fans, get their hopes back up so that they can only get crushed again. Perhaps, but having already accepted defeat in this series, I would think most Boston fans are willing to accept their comeback coming up short. They won't be happy losing, but they won't be crushed. It's as although they've already won.
All that's left is the formality of Game Seven.
Larry Mahnken is a staff writer for The Hardball Times, and co-editor of the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog. You can contact him with your comments, questions, romantic propositions and incoherent rantings at DLMahnken@hardballtimes.com.