This past Saturday, the Ole Miss Rebel baseball team kept its postseason hopes alive by sweeping their series against the archrival Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Rebels, by what seemed to be a set of miracles, came from behind, erasing a five run deficit in the ninth inning (!) to tie the game and force extras. The Rebels got the win, 8-7, on a walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the 10th.
Ole Miss somehow won, but Ole Miss was going to lose that game. Just consider the situation the Rebels were in:
- Bottom of the 9th
- Down by five
There, that's all you really need to know to think "yeah, there's no real reason to think they're winning that one." But y'all know there's more. Ole Miss had:
- Two outs
- Two strikes
- Kyle Watson, a guy with a .224 average and .366 on base percentage, up to bat
Ole Miss did have runners on first and second, but that shouldn't matter, right? Surely the Bulldogs aren't giving up anything close to five runs on just one out. Must've been a quick end to that inning, or maybe a bit of a headache as the Mississippi State pitchers worked their way in and out of a jam, no?
- Watson walks, loading the bases.
- Henry Lartigue is hit by a pitch, plating a run. Rebs are down 7-3.
- Errol Robinson singles, plating a run. Rebs are down 7-4.
- Will Golsan walks, plating a run. Rebs are down 7-5.
- Colby Bortles singles, plating two runs. Ballgame's tied, y'all.
You've never seen anything like that. None of the State fans watching have seen anything like that. And I doubt that any of the SEC Network crew covering the game had seen anything like that. That we're even writing this is a testament to how rare such a comeback is, but it's worth a few extra words to dive into just how uncommon a five-run, two-out rally in the bottom of the ninth is.
Because there are a lot of baseball stat geeks out there, there is a win percentage calculator available online that allows you to compare a certain game's scenario against thousands upon thousands of Major League Baseball games over the past 50-some-odd years. You can check it out here. I do realize that this is far from a perfect measure for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we're not talking about the big leagues here. Furthermore, that calculator simply looks at win/loss percentage as "have teams - any teams - won under these circumstances," meaning it doesn't take into account things like the batter's average, the pitcher's ERA, etc. You simply ask it a question, like "has a home team, in the bottom of the 9th with runners on first and second, overcome a five run deficit with two outs," and it gives you a ratio of yes to no.
But, considering how imperfect a measure it may seem to be, it's important to note that, with such a huge sample size of games to measure against, you are still going to get a pretty clear picture of what types of wins are probable at any given level of competition, even when removing factors like batting averages. Furthermore, anyone who has watched at least two or three baseball games knows just how hard runs are to come by, so when I say "it's really, really, really hard to do what Ole Miss just did this past weekend," it's something that's easy to take at face value. That we're even having this conversation is evidence of how remarkable that come-from-behind win was.
So let's look at how remarkable it really was.
Since 1957, here have been 576 games in Major League Baseball where a home team has had, in the bottom of the ninth, a five run deficit, two outs, and runners on first and second. Only twice has the home team won. That's a 1-in-228 chance, or a win percentage of 0.35%. There was roughly a one third of one percent chance that Ole Miss was going to win that game. Those ain't good odds, y'all. Here, look at this:
That's such a tiny little slice of a pie that it's almost not a valuable way of thinking about just how rare this is. You might as well look at that and think "oh okay so that should have never happened," which is totally right, but not at all a great way of telling the story. Let's think about this pie chart a bit differently, but with a different type of pie.
Let's say your friend orders for you a large pizza. Those are typically sixteen inches in diameter, which is good for about 201 square inches of pizza. If your friend were to then cut out 0.69 square inches of pizza for you - roughly a piece the size of a postage stamp - you'd have 0.35% of that pizza.
Or let's consider something even bigger and rounder, like Earth. Our planet's circumference is a hefty 40,075 kilometers, or just under 25,000 miles. If you were to tell your friend, after he/she gave you a postage stamp made of pizza, that you intended to walk the entire circumference of the planet in a straight line, they'd tell you that what you're suggesting is impossible. "You can't even walk a straight line to get out of this house," they'd say, pointing out that you'd have to turn around at least two corners to get to the front door, and then you'd have to turn left to exit the front porch anyway. They're missing the point. They always miss the damn point.
"No, just hear me out here. I want to start walking due-ish west from the home plate of Swayze Field. I then--
Hey, just shut up and list--
I know it's not a real thing that real people do and I totally know that trees and houses and shit are going to get in the way. Will you just shut up? Okay. So I am gonna walk in a straight line so I can circumnavigate the globe by going exactly the length of its circumference.
Yes, I know what oceans are.
But, when I'm just 0.35% of the way around the globe, I'm going to stop. What would that look like?"
Shit, you're not even halfway through Arkansas yet. You made your way across the Mighty Mississip' and then stopped at the Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge. That's just under 140 kilometers, or around 86 miles. That's what a trip 0.35% around the planet looks like.
Let's take a better look:
And this map cuts out most of the Pacific Ocean! Still, take a look at all the cool things you missed out by skipping over 99.65% of the planet! Would have been a fun trip, ya bum.
If you're anything like me, you're finding that it's still hard to grasp just how little of a chance Ole Miss had to win that game. If it helps, here's roughly one third of one percent looks like in some other contexts:
- If you were to run just 0.35% of the basepath at Swayze Field, you'd go 15 inches.
- If you were to carve out 0.35% out of the State of Mississippi to create your own state (because people do that), you'd have a piece of land that's 435.29 square kilometers, or just about one quarter of Lafayette County.
- If Sikes Orvis hits a home run, and you want to toss just 0.35% of your 12 oz can of beer skyward, you'd have to do that with just 0.04 oz, or 2.37 drops of beer (yes, there's a fluid ounces to drops calculator out there).
- If Bill Gates were to give up 99.65 of his 79.3 billion American dollars, he'd have just over $275 million left which, uh, wow. That's still a lot of money. Damn, Bill.