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No such thing as a lock

Posted by Andy on September 29, 2011

The Red Sox and Braves were locks for the playoffs...or so just about everyone thought. Now they're both going home.

I am totally amazed, and my hats go off to the Orioles, Rays, and Phillies, who all staged great comebacks to make it happen. In particular, the Orioles and Phillies deserve a lot of credit given they had nothing on the line.

96 Responses to “No such thing as a lock”

  1. Andy Says:

    I also feel terrible for Carl Crawford. That was a tough play at the end of the game, but he's going to take a massive amount of criticism after the horrible season he had.

  2. Johnny Twisto Says:


  3. mike kelly Says:

    Did we just witness the best evening of regular season baseball ever played? Amazing......

  4. Andy Says:

    Yeah I just said the same thing, #3, to a friend. I can't remember the last time we had such an exciting regular-season day. I am sure Red Sox and Braves fans are devastated, and I feel for them, but it was a hell of an amazing day.

  5. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I think Longoria's WPA today (including his tag out of Golson(?)) is +890346234820202344902.3

    If you have his cap, better return it.

  6. Steve Says:

    Papelbon had been so good too,unlike the rest of the Sox pitching.I feel bad for him.

  7. Doug Says:

    No Mookie and no Buckner, but the end of the Sox game sure brought back memories of game 6 of the '86 WS. I was watching with a friend back in '86 and I turned to him and said just what JA said: "I don't believe what I just saw!"

  8. Jimbo Says:

    The Phils had nothing on the line AND risked injury (though most starters were taken out of the game by the 7th). As for the Orioles, a terrible season can have a cherry on top by spoiling one of your biggest rivals post season chances, even if it is to let another divison rival in.

  9. Andy Says:

    By the way, the Rays just went 17-10 in September, which is a surprisingly "poor" record in a month that they went up 10 games on the Red's just that the Red Sox went 7-20 in the month.

  10. mike kelly Says:

    I agree Jimbo....Manuel and his team showed a ton of class.

  11. Andy Says:

    And how about the Orioles? They stormed the field after the win. Big heart. and big props to Showalter for having that team ready to play. They blitzed the Red Sox in the last couple of weeks.

  12. Steve Says:

    9 Epic fail.I know epic fail,cause I'm a Mets fan.I can relate with the Sox fans and even the Braves fans.

  13. Andrew T Says:

    I'm pretty sure I just witnessed the greatest five hours in regular season history.

  14. Andy Says:

    Longoria's game-winning shot reminds me a ton of McGwire's 62nd homer in 1998--a laser-shot with very low elevation in the left-field corner that went out so quickly that many people didn't even quite realize it right away.

  15. Johnny Twisto Says:

    The Phils had nothing on the line AND risked injury (though most starters were taken out of the game by the 7th

    Hrrmph. Why the hell were Utley and Pence still playing in the 13th?! Ridiculous! (My dad is a Braves fan.)

  16. Richard Chester Says:


    In 1949 both the AL and NL pennants were decided on he last day of the season (Yankees and Dodgers), but they were afternoon games.

  17. statboy Says:


    Yes. Or Joe Carter's famous HR. All pretty similar.

  18. statboy Says:

    Red Sox - 77-0 when leading after 8 innings...until tonight.

  19. Dark Says:

    Such a great day. And this post reminds me a little of the post last year in which you (Andy) said the Phillies probably weren't going to make the postseason. Just shows anything can happen.

  20. Andy Says:

    Yeah, and I'm not going to name names, but another blogger on here called the NL wild card done a few weeks ago too.

  21. mike kelly Says:

    @16....I'll take the best since 1949! Fun night.

  22. Djibouti Says:

    A little bit of solace:

    To Braves fans - at least you're not Red Sox fans
    To Red Sox fans - at least you're not Cubs fans
    To Cubs fans - at least you're not Indians fans
    To Indians fans - at least the other Cleveland teams are winners. Oh wait...

  23. ToddWE Says:

    And for us Mets fans - no longer the worst September choke in history, plus less talk about Reyes-gate.

  24. statboy Says: odds of making the playoffs on 2011-09-04:

    Boston Red Sox - 100.0%
    New York Yankees - 99.9%
    Tampa Bay Rays - 0.1%

  25. Matt Says:

    It all turned so fast in minutes. What a night for baseball.

  26. Roddy Says:

    So if the Phillies get bounced by the Cards in the first round, did they shoot themselves in the foot? It will be interesting.

    Also Carpenter can only pitch Game 3 in that series???
    Oswalt-Jackson/Westbrook (shudders)

    Paper = Phils in 4
    Reality=You don't win on paper (but the Phils did live up to the preseason papers)

  27. Bob Says:

    Just like the good old days...the RedSox pull defeat out of the jaws of victory!

  28. topper009 Says:

    More people are going to fall off the Boston (band)wagon then when they repealed prohibition.

  29. jlk Says:

    @statboy - Doesn't that suggest the baseball prospectus playoff odds calculation method needs to be adjusted? A team shouldn't get to 100.0% until they clinch, should they?

  30. Voomo Zanzibar Says:

    I love baseball.

  31. pauley Says:

    @14- The thing about Longoria's homer, watching it off the bat you're thinking- 'oh he hit a double into the corner,' and then the camera angle changes and you see the dip in the fence. Even ESPN's announcer got caught by surprise. Amazing game.
    @22- Since the Red Sox have won 2 World Championships in the last eight years, they don't need much solace, certainly nothing to the level of Indians fans (or Cleveland in general) or Cubs fans, who have never seen their team win a championship. (Unless, we're talking reaaaallly old Cubs fans, and face it- any of them old enough to remember 1908 probably didn't survive Bartman.)

  32. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Jlk, I'd assume the 100% was just rounded from 99.999 or whatever. Still, I can't see how a team could be even 99.95% sure to win on Sept 4. A team could only come back from that once every 2000 seasons? Obviously it's extremely unlikely, but it seems a lot of extremely unlikely comebacks have occurred in recent seasons. I'd love to know the chances of that.

  33. Eric W. Says:

    @29 a team should get 100.0% if there's a 0.049999% chance or less of them missing the playoffs.

    That is LESS (possibly far less) than a 1 in 2000 chance, fwiw.

  34. Doug Says:

    Who was saying they didn't like the wild card?

  35. Johnny Twisto Says:

    That is LESS (possibly far less) than a 1 in 2000 chance, fwiw.

    I've got too many hours, ballgames, and drinks in me to have the math straight. My point stands.

  36. BSK Says:

    I'll come out of my Red Sox depression bunker when Papelbon is willing to throw something other than a fastball.

    I have a feeling this will be a while...

    (Note: This is a criticism I've been tossing out there for 2+ years, so it is not just based on tonight.)

  37. Eric W. Says:

    @32 the probability seems reasonable to me. Remember it's for that single team in that single situation. In 2000 seasons I'd expect there to (on average) be at least a handful of these comebacks and maybe a couple of even more impressive/insurmountable ones.

  38. Eric W. Says:

    @35 Sorry if it seemed like I was on your case, I actually posted at the same time as you and I was responding to the other poster more in personal disbelief at the probabilities.

  39. Joseph Says:

    Look at this URL from a Sept. 17 article, you don't even need to click it:

    Boston's failure is one of the all time meltdowns. A month ago they were in first place and had about a 7 game lead in the wild card race, I think.


  40. Dvd Avins Says:

    Under most circumstances, one game is closer to statistically independent of the previous several games than fans generally think. But not perfectly independent and sometimes there are extraordinary circumstances, whether we ever know about them or not. So I'm usually skeptical of any projection of near-certainty based on the distribution of a long sequence of events.

  41. Eric W. Says:

    Boston had a 9 game lead in the wild card on Sep 4. I'm quite sure this is the largest September comeback in history to make the postseason, and it didn't even start September 1st!

    This is why I think the projections were pretty reasonable. I don't know if it's the true number (nobody can know obviously) but it seems like a fair number given the entire situation.

  42. Mike Says:

    @41 Eric, do you or anyone else know the largest lead the Mets had in 07? I remember they were up 7 games with 17 to play, but I don't know if they had a lead larger than 9 earlier in the month.

    Also, what was the Braves largest lead in September this year? I could have sworn both the Red Sox and Braves had 9.5 game leads

  43. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Mike, you can easily check that stuff on each team's schedule/results page. 7 games was the '07 Mets biggest lead.

  44. Eric W. Says:

    Sept 1st, Atl had an 8.5 game lead over Stl (Atl led their division at the time as well). Another very very low probability comeback in the same season. Pretty amazing.

  45. Eric W. Says:

    Bos was 9.5 games ahead of Tampa on August 25th, and they were within 9 games of each other for a good week or so until Sept 4 where the comeback/collapse began.

  46. Doug Says:

    @41, @44.

    For perspective, the '69 Cubs led by 9 games, but way back on Aug 13th, instead of early Sept. Big difference.

    Those Cubs were accused of choking by finishing 18-27. Reality though is they would have lost even if they finished 27-18. No stopping the Mets freight train that finished 38-11 to ultimately win the division in a walk.

    The '64 Phils led by 6.5 on Sep 20, with only 12 games left. We'll never know, but seems hard to believe they wouldn't have won the pennant by just staying with the regular rotation that, at that point, had staked them to a 27-17 mark since Aug 7.

  47. Zachary Says:

    I just feel sick to my stomach. I don't want to do anything... I can't even sleep. I always feel dead when the season ends, but this... Grady Little had a hand in this, I know it.

    God, family, and baseball. Everything else is irrelevant in comparison for me. Usually the offseason is like a long business trip away from the folks. This is like a long trip to a damn funeral.

  48. Travis Says:

    The Braves were up 10.5 games on the Cards on 8/25. They lost 8/26, and then had the next three days off because of Hurricane Irene. It was all downhill from there going 10-19 the last 30 days of the season. Clearly this was all Hurricane Irene's doing. I honestly think the Braves collapse is bigger than the Red Sox's.

    @44 Atlanta never led their division all year and were 9 back in the loss column on September 1.

  49. Eric W. Says:

    @48 Apologies, I am stupid. Atl led the wildcard by 8.5 on Sept 1, but never led over Philly.

  50. BSK Says:

    Worth pointing out that today wouldn't have happened if we had the proposed two wildcard playoff format. The only thing the 4 teams in action today would have been playing for was home-field in the "play-in". Important, but I doubt we see Price, Lester, Carpenter, or Hudson out there on the mound.

    Again, one season is not enough to draw any definitive conclusions. But the idea that more playoff teams is an automatic panacea to the supposed death of pennant races is obviously wrong.

  51. KJ Says:

    Yep, that was me who didn't like the Wild Card.

    I stand corrected.

    (And of course, now that I like, they're going to change it....)

  52. Bip Says:

    And this a day after the DBacks score 6 with two outs in the bottom of the tenth, culminating in a walk-off grand slam while down 3 runs, for what has got to be the single biggest play by WPA all season.* These last two days baseball has become magical. All the things that make me think "wouldn't it be amazing if... but it is too unlikely" have happened.

    *I can't imagine how any play could possibly have a higher WPA than a walkoff grand slam while down by 3 with 2 outs.

  53. The Original Jimbo Says:

    It seems to me that the Yankees should've tried to beat the Rays. By losing to the Rays, they allowed a hot team full of momentum into the play-offs, instead of the faltering Red Sox whose pitching has completely collapsed.

    Rays eliminating Yankees will be hilarious.

  54. Stu Baron Says:

    Hopefully, endings like this will be possible after MLB adds a second WC spot.

  55. Nash Bruce Says:

    @34 Doug: don't know who else, but, yeah, I've said, several times, that I don't like the wild card. Wow wow wow wow wow. What a freakin' night tonight. And I missed it all, I was at work.....waaaaaaahhhhhhhHHHH.
    somebody told me that it was 7-0, and that Baltimore was down, and then....I don't know, again, I was at work, and it couldn't have been too much longer after that, but I left for break. I live about 45 seconds from work, and, despite knowing that the races were over (sigh) I fired up the laptop had all JUST went down, Yahoo didn't even have a summary on either(AL) game yet, but I yelled something like "(Profane profane profane profane)."
    This has to be the best day of baseball, ever.
    I am just now watching the ESPN highlights, can't believe that this all took place within like a few minutes of real time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  56. Stu Baron Says:

    "Rays eliminating Yankees will be hilarious."

    Of course, the Rays must eliminate the Rangers and the Yankees must eliminate the Tigers for that to be possible.

  57. Nash Bruce Says:

    Doug, if there were no wild card, then, essentially, the end result would be the same....Sox, in first place in September, suffer epic collapse. There would have still been a compelling pennant race("echoes of '78???") with NY, etc
    Now, under baseball's new plan, ANOTHER wild card.....what? Boston, down to the wire, with the Angels?
    No matter where you draw the line, there will always be one team battling another, some "races" will be closer than others. But, today's theatre is so very 'real' to me, because all of the teams involved were DAMN GOOD, if not in the immediate moment, at least at one point. I've expected Boston to win over 100 games, almost all year!!
    Plus, again, the value of the 162- game season, filtering out all but the best. The Braves were so good, but they. just. ran. out. of. gas. BUT, with the new wild card, they would have been in, and well-rested, for the playoffs.
    If MLB 2011, had wasted 6 months, going down to the last couple weeks of the season, to see whether KC or MN were going to clinch the last "wild card", then you can count me out.
    NBA or NHL regular season is a bore......
    New wild card is a bad idea!!

  58. Nash Bruce Says:

    *could have counted me out

  59. Evan Says:

    Bip @52,

    The 2-out, down 3 game-ending grand slam is practically equivalent to hitting a home run with a man on first, down one in the same out/inning situation (there are slight differences since there are small additional opportunities to record an out with the bases loaded because of additional force opportunities).

    However, since park factors are taken into account when computing WPA, it is possible for another player to exceed the WPA total by performing the same or a similar feat in a more pitcher-friendly stadium.

    I think there was a thread about this a few weeks ago, but I'm having trouble finding it at the moment.

  60. John Says:

    Agreed @31: as a Red Sox fan, I'm not looking for solace. I'm disappointed -- a more than a little unsettled about this team's heart moving forward -- but I'm glad that *MY* 1978 happened AFTER two championships. (I was three years old for Bucky Bleepin Dent.)

    Aaron Boone's homer in the 2003 ALCS was WAY more of a kick to the stomach than this month was: I'm glad that *MY* "This is it. I'll never see the Red Sox win a championship. Ever" moment only lasted 12 months.

    Well done, Rays. You got bunches of help, but still... well done.

  61. John Says:

    To combine the "Red Sox collapse" with the "Reyes-gate" comment...

    ... if Theo Epstein keeps his job, and then signs Jose Reyes, I'll be looking for a new team.


  62. Downpuppy Says:

    In 27 games in September the Red Sox scored 146 (5.407/g) runs & played 0.259.
    In the previous 135 they scored 729 (5.4/g) & played 0.615.

    How can an entire team forget how to pitch?

  63. Thomas Court Says:

    Is there any level headed person on this board that thinks that either Terry Francona or Theo Epstein should lose their job?

    I am a Yankee fan, and I think it would be incredibly short sighted to fire either one when you consider what both have done for the franchise.

  64. Downpuppy Says:

    Francona & Epstein may stay.

    Do they even need to tell Curt Young he's gone?

  65. Paul E Says:

    The 1964 Phillies were probably the 4th best team in the NL (Cards, Giants, Dodgers, ...Pirates(?).

    The Sawx of 2011 were the best team on paper in the AL. They'll throw more money at it in 2012 and try to replace Drew and Scutaro.

    Good for the Orioles...they played this series with professional dedication. I guess everybody hates the Red Sox, including Buck Showalter

  66. Brian Wells Says:

    Good Gosh,Adam Dunn`s slugging average ended up 28 points lower than teammate Omar Vizquel`s slugging average.Yes,THAT Omar Vizquel!

  67. Jim Frerker Says:

    No kudos for the Cards? You mentioned the Rays, Orioles and Phillies but not the Cardinals

  68. Larry R. Says:

    May this be the end of the second wild card idea. With 2 WCs from each league, last night doesn't happen.

  69. JayKibler Says:

    @67: He was talking about last night's games. The Cardinals did not have to come back last night.

  70. Tom Says:

    "Orioles, Rays, and Phillies, who all staged great comebacks..."

    They didn't stage a comeback but rather dominated an awful team from start to finish.

    I thought it was funny that both the Braves and Cardinals were facing members of the Phils 2008 WS rotation. Last year Myers had his highest win total, 14. This year he had his highest loss total, 14.

  71. Jimbo Says:

    Johnny Twisto Says:
    September 29th, 2011 at 12:37 am
    The Phils had nothing on the line AND risked injury (though most starters were taken out of the game by the 7th

    Hrrmph. Why the hell were Utley and Pence still playing in the 13th?! Ridiculous! (My dad is a Braves fan.)


    I guess I should have put more emphasis on MOST. ๐Ÿ™‚ But you're right, I wonder why Utley in particular was in there. It's not like hes been injury prone in the past or anything.

  72. John Autin Says:

    @47, Zachary -- Hang in there, buddy. It's gonna be tough for a while, but spring will come again. You still have a damn good ballclub, and there's no cosmic meaning to what happened -- just a series of unfortunate events.

  73. oneblankspace Says:

    Cardinals fans are not entirely happy. Pujols finished with a .29879 average and 99 RBI, that could easily have become .300 and 100 with game 163 tonight.

  74. Andy Says:

    Yeah, weird that Pujols' reputation will take a big hit for not continuing his .300/100 season streak even though he missed by a trivial amount.

  75. Evan Says:

    Pujols was 1 hit and 1 RBI short of both marks, makes me wonder if he had a run scoring RoE/No RBI earlier in the year that was borderline and might have cost him both round numbers.

    As a Cardinals fan, though it is disappointing to not see the historic milestones (I think it is fun to see history regardless of which team the player is on - with the exception of when it really costs your team something), I can assure you that I am entirely happy with the results.

    Even if the playoff runs for the Rays and Cardinals are short-lived, they will still be remembered for the historic nature of the comebacks.

  76. Mulliniks Says:

    I'm not exactly sure who the Phillies had on the bench to replace Utley, Rollins, Ibanez, etc., but Michael Martinez and Wilson Valdez were in the game already because Ryan Howard had to leave after being hit by a pitch in the eight. Martinez pinch ran for Howard. Mayberry, Jr. moved from the outfield to first base in the bottom of the eighth. Martinez (one of the backup infielders and potential replacement for Utley) went to center. Valdez (another backup infielder and potential replacement for Utley) came in the game in the bottom of the ninth after Pete Orr pinch ran for Placido Polanco.

    I could be wrong, but I don't think the Phillies called up any backup infielders. Pete Orr was out after pinch running for Polanco. Martinez was already in the game, as was Valdez. What were the Phillies supposed to do? Put a starting pitcher or outfielder in to play short or second? They didn't have any other options on the active roster.

  77. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Mulliniks, I admit I have no idea who was available to come in the game. I was just surprised to see those guys still in there, and upset the Braves lost.

  78. D Forrest Y Says:

    I can't remember a final day/night of the season that was as exciting as this year!

  79. Dave Says:

    Thankfully the Braves lost and did not make the playoffs
    Being from PGH I couldn't handle the Braves making it while knowing one of their wins was totally bogus (the 19 inning game)

  80. Mulliniks Says:

    Johnny, I'm a Mets fan, so I understand the frustration. I really hope 2006 (the Wainwright curve to Beltran) and then the collapse in 2007 haven't scarred me for life. 2007 was (and still is, if I stop and think about it) awful. I, too, was surprised Utley, Pence and Rollins were still playing so late in the game. Part of me (the not so nice part) wanted them to get hurt. Nothing serious, just a muscle pull or something that might linger into the playoffs.

  81. Richard Chester Says:


    See my post #16.

  82. Genis26 Says:

    Is Robert Andino near the same level as Bucky Dent or Aaron Boone? He did come up huge for the Orioles (Rays, too) late in 3 games in the last week and a half or so.

    I think you've got to respect how those O's played as spoilers. They went 15-13 in September, including series wins over the Rays, Angels, Red Sox (twice), Tigers, and splitting a series with the Yankees.

  83. Zachary Says:

    @72 - Thanks. You're totally right. I certainly don't want Tito or Theo to be fired. Tito's a good personality fit for the organization, and Theo has constructed and restructured this team several times. The Sox were probably the best team in baseball for a solid 2/3rds of the season in my view, and there's no reason they can't do better next in 2012.

    They better, since the world's going to end and all!

  84. JDV Says:

    So many have said it already...incredible night of baseball, even though I had to re-live most of the magic this morning. I fell asleep when the Red Sox and my Orioles were in their rain delay; the Yankees were up 7-0; and the Phillies / Braves had just gone to extras after a great running catch by Martinez(?) on Chipper Jones' near-winner to the gap. This morning, I let out about 15 OMGs as I went through the play-by-plays and video clips. Very happy to see my fellow Bowling Green alum Nolan Reimold knock in the tying run and score the winner. Greatest sport on earth!

  85. Andy Says:

    Carl Crawford had the worst season realistically imaginable, between his hopelessness at the plate (the guy looked awful and overmatched most of the season), bad PR moves like the online diary he kept, and that catch he probably should have made last night. He's just about GOT to be better next season. Gonzalez should be the same. Ellsbury probably will not be quite as good, but still great. They should get at least as much out of Pedroia and Youkilis. Ortiz is a wild card given his age.

    There is no reason to think they won't be better, but they have major questions:

    1) What will happen with the rotation? Right now, Lester and Beckett are the only locks. Matsuzaka will not be back. Buchholz has been injured a lot--he should be back but will he be durable? Wakefield is a free agent. Lackey is coming back whether they want him or not.

    2) They need a new outfielder. Drew's contract is up. Crawford may be moved to right field, in which case they need a new left fielder.

    3) Youkilis has lacked durability and has been good (not spectacular) at third base. It may make a lot of sense to try to move him to a team that wants a 1B (Milwaukee?)

    4) The bullpen is an absolute wreck. Papelbon is a free agent. Bard was bad down the stretch. They have nobody else.

    I don't expect the Red Sox to be bad next year, but I don't necessarily expect them to make the playoffs either.

  86. Eric W. Says:

    @Andy Also "Crawford's Cutout" played a huge part in Evan Longoria hitting that walk-off. Just to rub some more salt in the wound.

  87. Doug B Says:

    as a Brewer fan I'm a little bummed out that the revenge of 1965 won't happen. An Atlanta-Milwaukee series would have been interesting from that perspective.

  88. Doug B Says:

    Andy, the Brewers would rather have him at 3rd base.

  89. Andy Says:

    I presume they'll be needing a first baseman in a few weeks, though..

  90. Paul E Says:

    Bud Selig doesn't deserve a night as great as last night

  91. Doug B Says:

    Andy, but they can find a decent first baseman or just play Mat Gamel there. Third base is tough to fill and McGehee-Youk is probably both more expensive and worse than Youk-Gamel, that's all I'm saying.

  92. MichaelPat Says:

    โ€œWhat happened? It happened, that's all. It happened like a car wreck or a rape or an aneurism in the brain, an arbitrary punishment selected by an unseen god for an unknown reason, a punishment that could have happened to John or Joe or George Bush or the St. Louis Cardinals just as well, but which sought out the Toronto Blue and sat upon their shoulders with wings of iron....โ€
    - Bill James 1988 Abstract on the Toronto Blue Jays collapse in 1987, when they were up 3.5 games with seven to play

  93. Doug B Says:

    rape as an arbitrary punishment from an unseen god? ouch. I thought by 1987 we'd advanced farther than 1887.

  94. MichaelPat Says:

    Ouch. Tough crowd.
    But I'm all for political correctness. A 2011 version might be...

    ...a car wreck, a waterboarding, or an aneurism, an arbitrary punishment from an unseen god....

  95. Jimbo Says:

    Pujols still has his 30 homer streak going, for what it's worth.

    He also has .299 and 99 rbi and 99 runs scored or better in every year of his career through 11 years. Amazing.

  96. nesnhab Says:

    I'll keep saying this until I'm blue in the face, but you can have great pennant races without Wild Cards, or even without divisions. The 1960's had some of the best pennant races ever, involving two, three, four teams going down to the final day. Those four team races were almost unprecedented.

    You can also have horrible stretches when nobody comes within a mile of the leader and makes people imaging how great things will be with divisions and wild cards.

    Dissatisfaction with the existing format inevitably sets in--no matter what happens. Since it is fact that it does, why not move back toward the traditional way?

    I'm referring to the fans, obviously. The people who run the game will tend to gravitate toward more play offs and more TV money, and to deprecate the regular season. It's up to us to follow them--or not.