Prior to last night’s walk-off walk, the Yankees' odds of reaching the playoffs were a staggering 98.9%. Considering the team basically already had a playoff berth all but guaranteed, one would probably presume that all was well in the Yankees realm. In actuality, this has not been the case though despite the comforting realities of probability. Truth be told, it doesn’t take much coaxing of any fan that supports an AL East franchise to hear firsthand just how unpredictable the division truly is.
This September, the Yankees have found themselves 11-13 with six games remaining against divisional rivals (one of which technically hasn’t been eliminated from the playoff hunt), and it’s easy to see why many of us were beginning to experience panic-induced ulcers. Up until the final hours of Sunday night, the Yankees were still idling at a Magic Number of 3 during the last game of their last homestand of the season with the dismal prospect of having to obtain some wins in either of the two difficult upcoming away series remaining -- one in Toronto and another against the perpetually exhausting Boston Red Sox. If the remaining schedule wasn’t indication enough of just how dire the Yankees' situation had become, Girardi decided to give Phil Hughes the start (instead of allowing the youngster to enjoy an innings-limiting off day).
So as most of us sat nervously dreading the makings of another terrible outcome, I was doing a bit of research on those rare occasions where the historical percentages did not dictate the outcome. Here are some examples of those mind-numbing instances that have occurred over the past 20 years:
1995 | The California Angels led the AL West by 11.5 games by August 9th. After a .444 winning percentage over the remainder of the season they were forced into a one-game playoff with the Seattle Mariners. Needless to say, the Big Unit had his way in that bout.
2007 | The New York Mets led by 7 games on September 12th. Pedro Martinez had just returned from the DL and the team was primed for postseason success. As their bullpen revealed its true colors, they ultimately lost six of their final seven games including a surreal final blunder against the Marlins (Tom Glavine allowed seven earned runs in one third of an inning).
2008 | For a second straight year, the Mets didn't fail to disappoint. After holding a 3.5-game first place lead with seventeen games remaining, they ultimately wound up going 7-10 down the stretch. This meltdown wasn’t quite as excruciating as the prior year’s, but it did earn the team some inglorious recognition from the Elias Sports Bureau. Apparently, the Mets had become the first club to EVER hold a 3.5 game divisional lead in consecutive Septembers and fail to make the playoffs either time.
2009 | The Detroit Tigers enjoyed sitting in first place in the AL Central from mid-May clear until the final day of the season. After blowing an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth at home against the second-place Twins four days prior to season's end, they managed to win only one game thereafter resulting in a one game playoff with Minnesota. If that weren’t depressing enough, the Tigers led that final game in the 10th inning only to experience the sour pangs of defeat. Interestingly enough, the Tigers were the ONLY team to blow a three-game lead with four to play. So yeah, there’s that.
Well, there you have it. After last night, the Yankees aren’t technically in the playoffs yet. But they’re much closer, and hopefully won't be joining any of these (un)memorable teams.