I read a paper this week about the idea of chance. The paper talked about a play called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which is an absurdist spin-off starring two peripheral characters from Hamlet. In the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern bet on coin flips. Rosencrantz bets on heads every time, and the coin lands on heads 92 times in a row. Guildenstern suggests what any of us would: that there is some outside force acting on the coin. That a fair coin landing on heads 92 times in a row is a practical impossibility.
The paper argues that there’s no reason Guildenstern, or any of us for that matter, should be surprised that the coin lands on heads 92 straight times. After all, it says, the coin is bound to land in some specific combination of 92 results. Why should any one of them be more or less likely than any of the others? Why are we shocked at this one specific result, and not some other more arbitrary (yet equally improbable) result?
This argument (and by extension the paper) is, of course, is utter bullshit. The odds of landing on 92 heads in a row is about 1 in 5 octillion. For comparison, if you did this 92-coin flip one time per second, you would probably have to wait the entire age of the universe... times 12.5 billion. That is to say, it’s inconceivably unlikely. And against the paper’s point, 92 heads in a row is not an arbitrary result. It is meaningful, because it’s intuitively not random.
When I checked the fivethirtyeight.com odds for this game going in, they had the Mariners at a 33% chance of winning this game. With Erasmo Ramírez facing Corey Kluber, that seemed... generous. Corey Kluber won the Cy Young award twice. I love Erasmo but he’s not great. The odds of the Mariners winning this game weren’t one in five octillion, but they also were probably less than one in three.
It was pretty clear from the first inning. Kluber retired the Mariners with just eight pitches, while Erasmo...
At this point, whatever. The Mariners were up in the season series against Cleveland 3-1 going in tonight, which is pretty good when you’re going against a team that won 100 games last year. Even losing the next three in this series would leave the team above .500 for the year, so getting through this game without expending too many resources felt acceptable.
And that’s exactly what they did. Erasmo went five (less-than) strong innings, though he gave up five whole dingers in the process. The Mariners got an inning out of Marc Rzepczynski, which, if he’s still gonna be on this team, sure, whatever. And then Wade LeBlanc got to pitch! The high-leverage relievers got to rest, nobody got hurt, hooray.
Yet, for some reason, it actually hurt a little more when the Mariners almost came back. I would have been fine with a 6-0 snoozer, but first there was this treat from Mitch Haniger in the seventh.
A 6-2 game felt nearly as out of reach as a 6-0 game, but Corey Kluber finally faltered in the ninth. And when Mike Zunino did this to the previously-untouchable Cody Allen...
I don’t know what the odds are of Mike Zunino belting a dinger off of a 0.00 ERA pitcher like Cody Allen, but it felt nearly as impossible as Guildenstern’s coins. But after it happened, it was like the spell was snapped and the impossible was possible.
And, of course, it wasn’t. Ben Gamel cracked a liner off Allen, but BABIP frowned upon the hit, and it went straight at Francisco Lindor. And that was the game.
This was just one of the endless permutations of what might have happened in this game. It was one of the two thirds that Fivethirtyeight had ending in a Mariners loss. That it was this specific permutation was excessively unlikely, but no less likely than any of the others. I do wish that this one didn’t sting quite so much, but that’s baseball.
In the end, whatever. It wasn’t a game the Mariners were supposed to win, and they didn’t. Mitch Haniger hit his ninth home run of the season, which puts him on pace for 58 for the year. Mike Zunino looks like he’s settling in. Though Dee Gordon had to come out of the game, reports are that he’s fine. This is the last time the Mariners will have to face Kluber in the regular season. There were good things.
None of those good things was a win, but there’s reason to feel that if either the Mariners or the Indians had run out any of their other starters, it would have gone differently. Sometimes, the odds are just too much to overcome.