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What are the chances?

Posted by Adam Kilgore, Globe Staff  October 19, 2008 01:30 PM

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The Red Sox tonight can complete a more remarkable feat than they did in the 2004 ALCS, when they came back from down three games to none against the New York Yankees. Think about that. If you disagree with that claim – and understanding the emotions and memories from those games, there’s reason you would – consider the following.

When Kevin Millar came to bat against Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth in Game 4, the Red Sox, from a purely statistical standpoint, had a 2.4 percent chance to win the series, according to the folks at CoolStandings.com.

“Back in 2004, coolstandings.com wasn't around so for simplicity I'll assume each team had a 50/50 shot of winning each game,” wrote Greg Agami, the man who runs the web site and makes the numbers work, in an e-mail. “That would mean that at the beginning of Game 4, with the Sox down 3-0, the Sox had about a 1/16 chance of winning 4 straight games to win the ALCS.

“That works out to 6.25%. And at the start of the 9th inning of Game 4, before Millar walked to setup the Roberts steal, the Sox had an 18.8% chance of winning the game, based on data from 1977 to 2004. So at that point, they would have had a 2.4% chance of winning the ALCS (multiplying 6.25% by 18.8%) - about one in 40.”

One in 40. And they did it. Now consider this series. When Grant Balfour entered the game in the bottom of the seventh inning in Game 5, the Red Sox trailed 7-0.

“In that situation, with the home team down by 7 runs, only 0.6% of all teams between 1977 and 2006 have come back to win the game,” Agami writes. On Friday, “coolstandings.com gave the Sox a 22% chance of winning the next two games in a row, so that would mean that when Balfour entered the game the Sox had a 0.1% chance of winning the ALCS (multiplying 0.6% by 22%) - about one in 1,000.”

At 10:57 p.m. Thursday, the Red Sox had a 1 in 1,000 chance to win the ALCS. Now they’re nine innings away, and they have already thrown some of the final shovelfuls of dirt on the Tampa Bay Rays’ season.

Now, there are plenty of ways to attack those figures – they don’t into account momentum, experience, and intangibles of that sort. But it makes perfect sense logically, and it puts in perspective how unbelievable these past four days have been.

And there’s still one more game left. Jon Lester vs. Matt Garza. 8:07 p.m. Let’s hope TBS gets those routers cranked up.

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