Beyond Fiction

ST PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 28: Infielder Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays rounds the bases after his bottom of the twelveth inning walk off home run against the New York Yankees during the game at Tropicana Field on September 28, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

"This is beyond fiction." – Joe Maddon to Todd Kalas in the bubbly afterglow of Game 162.

Friday morning, shortly after 8am, I sat with a bowl of off-brand frosted mini-wheats on my lap and watched MLB Network’s "Road to the Postseason" (or whatever it's called) program. I needed to get showered for work, but, like most of us, I literally could not get enough of Evan charging his lazer. They showed the highlight package and then Mitch Williams unhinged his trap and let loose his bilious word soup du jour. This is normally where I’d click off, but there was a graphic on the screen that kept my hand in arrest. By now the numbers are old hat for Rays fans.

0.3% chance to overtake the Sox from 9.5 games back.

0.3% chance to come back against the Yanks down 7 in the 8th.

2% chance for Dan Johnson to stroke one with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the bottom of the 9th.

1-in-278 million odds for the Rays and the Cardinals to both close the balance on the respective Wild Card leaders at the beginning of September.

I’d seen the numbers before. They’d been all over Twitter and DRB on Thursday. And I had the same curious reaction to the numbers again on Friday: my eyes welled up with tears and I had to quite literally choke them back lest I embarrass myself in my empty living room. I didn’t understand why data points were making me so emotional. It’s not like I’d been a particularly good fan this year and my unwavering support for the organization had been vindicated in a landslide of long odd outcomes. I’ve been on record as atypically critical of the 2011 Rays – from baseball ops to the sales and marketing team. I wrote in the winter about trusting The Process and it chapped my fanny to see the org making, in my opinion, irresponsible personnel moves and a display of apathy toward the season. I maintain that Robert Andino, Evan Longoria, and Dan Johnson spared a lot of people a lot of blushes on Wednesday night. This minor rant is more contextual than cathartic. I want to emphasize that in no way were my tears shed for the realization of a just result.

It was something about that 0.3%. What the hell does that even mean? What does that number look like? If 100 MLB seasons were played, the Rays would come back from 9.5 games in only one-third of one season? That’s not conceivable by the human imagination. It’s a probability the size of a split hair on the edge of Galactus’ ear. But we saw three completely unfathomable things on Wednesday night. The Rays beat New York, they beat Boston, and St. Louis beat the Braves. We were witness to something so statistically batshit that it altered something fundamental in my worldview. I could only process it by weeping.

I’m still figuring it out. Like most of you, I’m a numbers person, a mostly strict adherent to logic and probabilities. It helps manage expectations. I’m not at all a religious person. I’ve left my personal spiritual dogma undefined for reasons it would be counterproductive to explain here. But what I saw in Evan’s face as he threw his arms up high and spread his fingers wide and grinned so powerfully it humbles the word could only be described as proof of god. Allah, Odin, Destiny, a pack of sandwich crackers, whatever it is that inspires belief that there can be miracles on Earth – for that is precisely what 0.3% means - I saw it on Wednesday night. 

I know what you’re thinking. "Come on, @thekidpow, you’re very handsome and smart and brave, but you can’t seriously think that god was responsible for the Rays making it to the playoffs!" And you’re right. I don’t. I don’t know who was responsible, which is the point. So many ludicrous things had to happen for the Rays to get to the postseason, and then they happened. It’s staggering and overwhelming and the only thing I can come back to is that it’s a miracle. A real miracle. The odds were less than one percent. This isn’t some plucky IceYanks getting lucky in a single game against the Ruskies 31 years ago. This occurred over four weeks, with thousands of micro-events contributing to a single unbelievable result. 0.3% is one of those numbers that only exists in a spreadsheet. It has no virility. It is a phantom integer. So, if something happens that statistically shouldn’t be possible – not improbable but impossible - what else do you call it but a miracle?

I’m not going to join the ministry or anything. I’ll probably maintain my 0.3% average annual churchgoing attendance (#pewseatlife). But Joe Maddon is right. This is beyond fiction. This is beyond baseball, too. Alone, neither of those things have the power to make a man re-examine the cynical foundation of his worldview or to enjoy a moment of epiphanical delirium. And maybe, in the end, this is all just delirium. Like I said, I’m still figuring it out. But 48 hours later, I’m still asking myself the question: "Just what is possible in this world?"

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