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Red Sox Collapse, Rays Comeback: Odds Of That Were 1 In 278 Million

Coming into Wednesday night with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays tied for the American League Wild Card spot, we expected drama, but what happened was crazier and more unlikely than anyone could have imagined. Just look at the numbers.

Over at the New York Times, Nate Silver broke down the win probabilities of the Red Sox and Rays, and, when multiplied together, the chances that Wednesday night played out like it did--with two playoff teams winning and losing on walkoffs, were 1 in 278 million.

First, you look at the Red Sox. On September 3rd, with the Sox in first place, the odds of them making the MLB playoffs were 99.6 perecent. Then, against the Orioles in a must-win game Wednesday night, the Red Sox led until the final strike of the ninth inning, and their odds of winning were somewhere in the neighborhood of 98%.

And then you have the Rays... They were down 7-0 as late as the 8th inning, when they had just .3 percent chance of winning. Then, even after the comeback, they were down to their last strike with Dan Johnson, a career .108 hitter who was just 1 for 45 in situations with two strikes. The odds of them winning at that point were just 2 percent.

Coming up with the probabilities is an inexact science, but when you multiply all the factors together, the numbers reinforce what most sports fans knew Wednesday night--we'd just witnessed one of the most incredible nights in baseball history.

  • The Red Sox had just a 0.3 percent chance of failing to make the playoffs on Sept. 3.
  • The Rays had just a 0.3 percent chance of coming back after trailing 7-0 with two innings to play.
  • The Red Sox had only about a 2 percent chance of losing their game against Baltimore, when the Orioles were down to their last strike.
  • The Rays had about a 2 percent chance of winning in the bottom of the 9th, with Johnson also down to his last strike.
  • Multiply those four probabilities together, and you get a combined probability of about one chance in 278 million of all these events coming together in quite this way.

    It's a reminder that no matter what, real life always trumps even the craziest of Hollywood scripts. And more than anything, it reminds us why we watch sports. Every now and then, you get one of those one in a million 278 million nights like Wednesday, and the whole thing just blows your mind.