10 Stats That Make the Tampa Bay Rays' Comeback over Boston Even More Historic

Paul MuellerSenior Analyst ISeptember 29, 2011

10 Stats That Make the Tampa Bay Rays' Comeback over Boston Even More Historic

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    You gotta hand it to them. Nobody saw this coming. Not when they were nine games back with under a month to go. Not when they were down 7-0 to the most powerful franchise in sports with two innings left on the last day of the regular season. Not with this cast. Not with these odds.

    But the Tampa Bay Rays’ 8-7 win over the New York Yankees to clinch the most improbable playoff berth in Major League Baseball history was perhaps more unlikely than most realize.

    Everyone talks about the nine-game deficit on September 4. No team had come ever come back from that large a deficit that late in a season. The 1964 St. Louis Cardinals were the closest at 8.5 games back on September 5, surging to reach the postseason.

    But that's not the only stat surrounding the Rays' historic comeback—or Boston's historic collapse, whichever way you see it.

    Here are 10 stats that make the impossible even more difficult to believe.

Yankees Blew a Large Lead Late

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    The Scenario: The Yankees held a 7-0 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning before the Rays used Yankees pitchers' miscues and timely power hitting to tie it at seven in the bottom of the ninth before winning it in the 12th on Evan Longoria's second home run of the game.

    The Stat: The Yankees had not squandered a lead that large that late in a game since 1953 (yeah, I know, they threw 11 pitchers, none of whom were elite, but still).

From 0-6 to a Playoff Berth

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    The Scenario: The Rays got off to an abysmal 0-6 start that found them at the bottom of the AL East and out of the playoff discussion early. With All-Stars Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano and Jason Bartlett gone, many wrote the Rays off after the first week of the season.

    The Stat: The Rays are the first AL team in history to make the playoffs after starting 0-6. Two NL teams have accomplished that feat: the 1974 Pirates and the 1995 Reds.

From a 1-8 Start to 91 Wins

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    The Scenario: Starting 0-6 is bad. Splitting your next two and starting 1-8 isn't much better, though it's a start. But in the end, the last winless team in baseball went on to a 90-win season.

    The Stat: The Rays' 91 wins are the most ever by a team that started the season 1-8. The previous mark of 87 was held by the 1921 Cardinals.

Struggles vs. the Yanks Down the Stretch

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    The Scenario: The Rays closed the season with a three-game sweep of the Yankees at Tropicana Field, a team they were historically bad against down the stretch in previous years.

    The Stat: Before Wednesday night, the Rays had only swept the Yankees in a series of three or more games in the final 10 days of the season once (September 26-28, 2000).

Playoff Berths in 3 of the Last 4 Years

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    The Scenario: The Rays earned their first playoff berth in 2008, which took them all the way to the World Series. After an off year in 2009, they made it back in 2010 only to lose to the Texas Rangers in the divisional series. Wednesday night's Wild Card berth marks the Rays' third postseason appearance in four years.

    The Stat: The Rays join the Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies as the only teams in baseball to have made the postseason in three of the last four years.

It Started as More Than a 9-Game Deficit

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    The Scenario: The history is in the nine-game deficit the Rays overcame to earn a postseason berth. But Boston's lead was much larger back when they were ahead of the Yankees in the AL East and the Rays were in third place without a chance (seemingly) of postseason baseball.

    The Stat: The Rays trailed the Sox in the AL East by 11.5 games on July 27. Since then, the Rays are 37-11 and the Sox are just three games over .500.

Dan Johnson the Unlikeliest of Heroes

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    The Scenario: Joe Maddon sent Dan Johnson to the plate as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, down by one. Johnson answered the call with a shot that just cleared the right field wall by the foul pole to tie the game at seven and send it into extra innings, keeping the Rays' season alive.

    The Stat: Johnson was hitting just .108 in 2011 when he dropped the bomb that tied the game.

The Rays Got Some Help

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    The Scenario: The Rays needed a lot of help to make the postseason, and the Red Sox appeared willing participants. The Rays also got some help from the Baltimore Orioles, who took out the Sox in the final game of the season in walk-off fashion, 4-3, allowing Longoria's home run to make history.

    The Stat: The Red Sox were 76-0 in 2011 when leading after eight innings before Baltimore's 4-3 walk-off win. It was Jonathan Papelbon's third blown save of the season.

Boston's September Left the Door Wide Open

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    The Scenario: The Rays' improbable comeback couldn't have happened without the Red Sox collapsing, and it wasn't just the walk-off loss to the O's in the final game.

    The Stat: Boston's 7-20 September record marks its worst September since 1952.

Evan Longoria's Walk-off Just as Historic as the Rays' Comeback

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    The Scenario: Having hit a three-run bomb to bring the Rays within one in the bottom of the eighth, Longoria went to the plate again in the bottom of the 12th. He stepped out of the box as the home crowd erupted upon the posting of the final score from Baltimore, showing an Orioles walk-off over the Red Sox. In that same at-bat, Longoria smoked a line drive that just cleared the short porch near the left field foul pole for the walk-off winner, sending the Rays to the postseason.

    The Stat: Longoria is only the second player in baseball history to hit a walk-off home run to clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the season (Bobby Thompsons's "Shot Heard Round the World" in 1951).

    That's good company.