The subject came up in the eighth inning of the unlucky 13th ever MLB game played in November. The Philadelphia Phillies comfortably led the Houston Astros, 7-0, and holding that lead would put them ahead in the 2022 World Series two games to one with two more games to play in Philadelphia.
So, Joe Davis asked his FOX broadcasting mate John Smoltz whether, if Philly were to hold on and win the Series, they would be the most improbable champion ever, or what. Smoltz immediately asserted that the win would be the most improbable in his lifetime.
How far back in MLB history must you go to equal, in improbability, a possible Philadelphia Phillies win this year?
There certainly would be a case for that conclusion. Smoltz was born in 1967, and probably didn’t really become aware of baseball until 1972, so we’re not sure how many years should be examined, but at least the last 50 seems a reasonable answer.
The Philadelphia Phillies were the last team to qualify for this year’s postseason … under an expanded format. The game postponed from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1 was, in addition to an unlucky 13th game, also the butt of Twitter jokes. Back on Oct. 26, analyst “Brian Grubb” observed, “’the first phillies world series home game in over a decade will take place on halloween night in south philly’ sounds like the premise of a horror movie.”
Notice that Grubb cleverly buried a second 13 — that was 13 years ago. But let’s leave analytics (read, numerology) alone for a moment and consider the World Series upsets since 1972 that might equal an eventual Phillies win this season.
I see two reasonable candidates — the 1985 Kansas City Royals and the 2003 Florida Marlins. Surely some passionate fans would argue for other teams considered underdogs, but I honestly don’t see a whole lot of gaps like the 19 wins between Houston’s and Philadelphia’s regular-season performances.
Indeed, it appears that one needs to go back to seven years before the birth of Smoltz to find a World Series win by such an underdog as this season’s Philadelphia Phillies, who seemed determined, for months, to prove their lineup on paper was a true mirage.
In 1960, the Pittsburgh Pirates were something of an opposite to this year’s Phillies, in that, on paper, they didn’t match up to their World Series opponent, the mighty New York Yankees, although they won only two fewer games.
That year the Yankees outscored the Bucs 55-27 in the postseason “tournament” (seven games at the time), but lost the seventh game on Bill Mazeroski’s famous home run. Legend has it that Mickey Mantle wept on the plane back to New York.
However, like the Pirates of 1960, this year’s Phillies seem to be gamers. The newest MLB scheme has made them piece together an improbably great overall bullpen performance, no less than three important sliding catches by Tin Glove winner, Nick Castellanos, and dramatic home runs by Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber. Harper hit the first of five by the Phillies in the Game 3 Series win, which ended 7-0. Schwarber hit the one that hit the distant ivy-covered wall in center field.
Moreover, the Philadelphia Phillies have analytics on their side, defeating a double-13 jinx on Nov. 1. Thirteen plus thirteen is 26, a common typo for 62, the number of years since the last true Series upset in 1960.
It should be pretty obvious what’s going to happen.