An Amazing Night

What in the world happened last night? Even this morning — while reviewing the box-scores — I’m not sure I can believe what I’m seeing. A seven-run comeback — capped off by an incredible walk-off homerun — catapulted the Tampa Bay Rays into the post-season just minutes after the Boston Red Sox lost on a walk-off single. Over in the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies forced extra innings against the Atlanta Braves in a must-win game. Last night, the stakes were incredibly high — and the teams involved in those games did not disappoint. As a fan of the game, you couldn’t ask for more.

Ignore, for a minute, the implications of last night’s games and look at the bigger picture. On a much larger level, this is what motivates us as analysts of the game. The next time someone questions my devotion to the game of baseball, I have the perfect comeback — September 28th, 2011. The extreme ridiculousness and unpredictability of last night is what ignites our passion for the game. No one could have seen this coming, and we’re all still in shock and awe because of the events that took place.

Hell, less than two weeks ago Dave Cameron wrote up a piece telling Boston fans not to panic. While things turned out differently, that article was incredibly accurate when it was published. You’ll hear a lot about Boston’s epic collapse in the coming days — potentially on this site — but anyone that tells you they saw it coming is a huge liar. This was entirely unpredictable. I don’t want to speak for Dave, but, like many of us, I’m willing to bet he’s glad things didn’t shake out like they “should have.”

So, what does that mean for a site that prides itself on accurate projections and analysis? No matter how close we come to finding the most accurate data available; there’s still a significant portion of the game that we cannot predict or analyze. These intangibles lead to unpredictable results — and while they might throw off our projections and occasionally come back to bite us; I would argue that these are the situations that drive us as analysts of the game.

When something so crazy and unpredictable happens, it becomes our obligation to ask “why” or “how” it happened. As Joe Posnanski recently wrote about Bill James, curiosity played a major role in his ascent as the premier analyst in the game. Maybe we’ll never be able to accurately explain what happened in the final month of the 2011 season, but we’ll sure as hell give it a shot.

Of course, that’s just my take on the incredible events of last night. In the coming hours, you’ll be seeing actual analysis and responses to those events all over the internet. If that didn’t stir up your passion in the game; I’m not sure you have a soul. But as the mystique and shock of last night wears off, very smart people are going to start asking questions. It’s the answers to those questions that enhance and increase our understanding of the game. Until then, take the time to appreciate what happened last night and bask in the awesomeness of the game.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


51 Responses to “An Amazing Night”

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  1. NEPP says:

    Probably the best night of baseball I’ve ever watched…outside of the Phillies winning it all in 2008 (Phillies fan obviously).

    What an incredible night for baseball and an incredible night for showing that we don’t need a 2nd wild card team to make September interesting.

    ~looks at Bud Selig~

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  2. Cloud Computer says:

    Redsux!

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  3. Bob says:

    Ummmm…. Dave Schoenfeld over at ESPN’s Sweet Spot blog predicted the Rays to win the Wild Card two weeks ago and even gave the main reasons why: 1. the Rays starting pitching edge, 2. Evan Longoria, 3. Boston’s bullpen issues, and 4. pressure.

    Numbers 1 and 2 were spot on, number 3 was at least partially correct, and you can discount number 4 as impossible to quantify if you want, but the fact of the matter is he was correct against all odds and Mr. Spreadsheet was wrong.

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    • Jeffrey Paternostro says:

      Schoenfeld also predicted the Phillies wouldn’t make the playoffs this year, so score one for Mr. Spreadsheet I guess.

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      • Daniel says:

        No. 2 Evan Longoria…

        What does the even mean? How about No. 5 Jacoby Ellsbury?

        He guessed. He came up right. Your point is?

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      • Patricio says:

        Exactly. It was a guess. I could “predict” the exact moment i will die. If I’m wrong, no one will really remember it. If I’m right? That ish will end up all over the internet.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        I think his point is a response to this sentence in the article:

        “but anyone that tells you they saw it coming is a huge liar.”

        The fact that Cameron wrote an article about Boston not panicking – I think that shows that many people saw it coming. Obviously nobody could say for sure that the collapse would happen, but it started to build up over the course of several weeks.

        On a separate note, I’m glad there’s no 2nd WC. Last nights games would have been meaningless if we didn’t just have 1 WC.

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      • MkDL says:

        But that was the spreadsheet’s position as well.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      ESPN has like 30 baseball analysts, ONE of them has to say something seemingly outlandish or controversial, it drives ratings. It’s like betting red 8 at a roulette table, you don’t get praised if you’re right, you collect your money and if you’re smart you never play roulette again because it’s stacked way too heavily against you.

      Fangraphs is more like the card counter at the blackjack table. They have a system that will make them winners when all is said and done, but they’ll lose some hands – and badly too – in the short term.

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  4. SC2GG says:

    “and while they might throw off our projections and occasionally come back to bite us”

    Ladies and Gentlemen, your expert predictions:
    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/preview/2011/news/story?page=11expertpicks

    “I don’t want to speak for Dave, but, like many of us, I’m willing to bet he’s glad things didn’t shake out like they “should have.””
    Pretty certain most people want the Red Sox to lose all the time, what with them spending like mad, always getting kudos and predicted to be winners, and the infuriating habit of ESPN commentators to call them “The Nation”. Hopefully next year it can be the Yanks turn…

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  5. ifitfitz says:

    Wow. I am a fan of the game but a fan of no one team. The competitive fire of the athletes, even those who lost, is awe-inspiring. And hats off to the O’s and Phils, who each could’ve mailed it in and no one (outside of ATL and STL, and BOS and TB) would’ve cared. Old-time baseball. Awesome.

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    • Patricio says:

      The Phillies mailed it in a bit, and they had every right to. The Yankees totally mailed it in, and again, they had every right to.

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  6. tdotsports1 says:

    …and amazing day…. Stephen Strasburg making the Florida Marlins look like a Single A team!

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  7. BDF says:

    One of the most interesting things to me was that, as the Red Sox collapsed and the Rays made their charge, the dominant narrative, as evinced by Cameron, became, “The Red Sox don’t have anything to worry about.” Various numbers were pointed to, most often the favorable schedule for the Red Sox. This struck me at the time as a case of We Can Use Numbers Syndrome: There are numbers that can be used to form a coherent argument, therefore we ought to make that argument. It’s a psychological sabrmetric vulnerability, when the reality is that the salient sabrmetric principle was the small sample size. Writers and thinkers whether sabrmetrically inclined or not, in the situation of two weeks ago, can (and maybe should, it’s fun) make predictions, and sometimes they will even be right, but it’s an unavoidable and constant Gettier problem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gettier_problem). The sample size of two weeks is too small for knowledge ever to accrue.

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    • Patricio says:

      Technically, the only statistical claim that can be made is the percent chance something can occur. If the Red Sox had a 99% chance to clinch, it just so happens that the 1% was the outcome. No one should say, “oh, this WILL happen” — that’s when SSS is an issue. It just so happens that the improbable outcome came to fruition.

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      • NWS says:

        Exactly.

        Nobody was saying that the Red Sox were going to lose, the narrative that Cameron and Co. were trying to convey was that the chance of them blowing the lead was lower than people thought at the time (they were in the 90% range for playoff odds I believe).

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    • GiantHusker says:

      I am no statistician, but to call the sample size “two weeks,” and therfore too small, is an obvious misunderstanding of statistics. The calculation of the Red Sox odds was not based, I am sure, on past results of teams losing a playoff slot with a big lead and 2 weeks to go, but on the probability of winning or losing a game extrapolated into the number of games remaining.
      The sample size was humongous.

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  8. phoenix2042 says:

    BEST NIGHT OF BASEBALL IN MY LIFE.

    i am 21, so still plenty of baseball left to see… but this was more fun to watch than the 2009 WS (as a yanks fan). having four teams and four games come down to the last day, carp going balls out for his cards, the braves fighting a tight one, kimbrel blowing it and losing in extras, the rain delay, the 6 run eighth, the dan johnson homer, the Os walk off on pap, the longo HR just minutes later… WOW!

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  9. Mario Mendoza of posters says:

    Chris… you mean you weren’t watching???

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  10. Baroque6 says:

    As a Orioles fan living in Boston, being out at the bar when all of that went down was obviously very surreal. Great article.

    As a bit of constructive feedback, every semicolon in the article should have just been a comma.

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  11. adohaj says:

    I went to Vegas in June. I put $20 on the braves to win the NL pennant at 8 to 1 odds. It seemed so good at the time.

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  12. mcbrown says:

    As they say, reality is a sample size of 1.

    Blech.

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  13. Tim says:

    Guys stupid question but it’s kinda bugging me. The Nationals final record for the season was 80-81, they only played 161 games?? How have they played 1 game less than everyone?

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  14. mad3441 says:

    I hope last night serves as a reminder for all the stat heads about the joy in simply watching the game. Stats are fun, but too often I hear the argument about who-is-better-than-who based on statistics that are gathered throughout “meaningless” regular season games. There is more than just statistics in sports and while they help, there is no better gauge to judge any sports than what you see with your eyes when the players are on the fields, not your TI-86 calculator

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    • GiantHusker says:

      Unfortunately, I was unable to watch every pitch of every game this year, and my eyes aren’t as good as they used to be, so I still have to rely on statistics to summarize what happened.

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    • DCN says:

      Well, without the “meaningless” regular season games last night’s games would have been meaningless also.

      There’s great joy in actually watching the game but that joy is increased by more knowledge of what’s actually going on. See the win probability article also on the front page, which helps puts the games in a context in a way that increases appreciation for those moments.

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  15. CircleChange11 says:

    This has to the best final game day of the regular season of my life (born ’73).

    The 2 largest (one in each league) September leads (for playoffs) lost in history.

    First walk-off HR to send a team to the playoffs since Bobby Thompson.

    I’m not sure I can handle another playoff series like StL-NYM in 2006 in terms of staying up late, being too jacked to sleep, and making it through the next day … day after day … but bring it on … I guess.

    Can you imagine if TB had a large fan base? Just amazing how this all played out.

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  16. Hurtlocker says:

    The look on all those players faces just said it all, the shere joy of victory and the agony of the loss. Great night for any baseball fan, even us Giants fans who had the melt down in August instead of Sept.

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  17. thalooch says:

    Partially, I think what happened was Terry Francona batted Ryan Lavarnaway 5th behind Agon. Why put that kind of pressure on a rookie when your season is on the line?? The kid must feel awful. I hope he can recover from this. Tito should pay for top-notch therapy for Ryan (and for himself too obviously)

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  18. Jim Lahey says:

    I’m a Red Sox fan and I feel like I was cheated last night. It seriously couldn’t seem more scripted to me, almost like the game is fixed.

    Yankees get up huge, go through 13 pitchers looking to find someone who will throw the ball down the middle of the plate, and blow the lead / the game.

    Sox get up 1, then blow the lead.

    Then again, I’m probably just saying that because you couldn’t even bet on the NYY/TB game in Vegas yesterday. No line. Just like the MLB called them up and said hey guys, no bets on this game, it’s all over.

    In summary,
    :(

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  19. DCN says:

    Well, without the “meaningless” regular season games last night’s games would have been meaningless also.

    There’s great joy in actually watching the game but that joy is increased by more knowledge of what’s actually going on. See the win probability article also on the front page, which helps puts the games in a context in a way that increases appreciation for those moments.

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  20. Makes one wonder, what the reaction will be when it’s the Tigers and Brewers in the WS? Just suppose the Brewers win.

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