What were the odds? Nate Silver says Red Sox had one-in-278-million chance of not making playoffs

For those who lived through both, the takeaway from last night's final scene of the Red Sox collapse was: it was pretty bad, but it was no 1986. 

Bullshit, says Nate Silver, the New York Times political stats guru who is warming up for the 2012 elections by crunching some painful baseball numbers.

"It’s hard to describe just how epic the Red Sox’ collapse was — something on the order of [Bill] Buckner’s play multiplied by itself two or three times over," he writes in this definitive, stomach-turning analysis of the Sox epic fail

It's worth reading Silver's column in full, but here's the money graf: 

The following is not mathematically rigorous, since the events of yesterday evening were contingent upon one another in various ways. But just for fun, let’s put all of them together in sequence:

  • 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.

    When confronted with numbers like these, you have to start to ask a few questions, statistical and existential.

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