Today we offer, as a public service and completely free of charge, two guarantees ...
Guarantee Number 1: The next four weeks of baseball will be filled with more thrills and spills and life-changing moments and crimes against probability than most human beings, not being used to such things, couldn't handle without a good supply of aspirin and frequent naps.
Guarantee Number 2: If you add up everything that happens in the next four weeks, it won't amount to three buckets of spit compared to what happened in four hours Wednesday night.
Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel, though just a rookie, entered Wednesday night with a 2.00 ERA and 46 saves, more than anyone else in the National League. He had never walked more than two hitters in one appearance.
Boston's Jonathan Papelbon entered Wednesday night with a 2.69 ERA, and hadn't lost a single game all season.
Wednesday night, Papelbon struck out the first two Orioles he faced, then gave up consecutive doubles and a single -- all of them ringing drives, no bloopers or bingles among them -- to blow the Red Sox' one-run lead, and the save, and the game, and the American League Wild Card.
Wednesday night, the Tampa Bay Rays trailed the New York Yankees by seven runs after five innings. At that point, history would have suggested the Rays' chances of winning the contest was somewhere between one and zero percent. The Rays also trailed the Yankees by seven runs after six innings, and seven; at the conclusion of each, history would have suggested that the Rays' chances of winning the contest was zero percent.
Not exactly zero percent, of course. Nothing is exactly zero percent. There is not exactly a zero-percent chance that monkeys will fall out of the sky tomorrow. There is not exactly a zero-percent chance that our sun will explode tomorrow. But the chances of approach zero percent quite closely, and so did the Tampa Bay Rays' chances of making up a seven-run deficit, even against the New York Yankees' second-string bullpen.
Wednesday night, the Rays scored six runs in the eighth inning, which improved their chances from (almost) exactly zero to something like twenty-five percent. After two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth, their chances had plummeted again, to something like five percent.
Enter Dan Johnson.
Dan Johnson joined the Rays in 2008, and hit two home runs that season. The first of them was a game-tying blast against Jonathan Papelbon in this game.
Johnson played for the Yokohoma BayStars in 2009.
He returned to the Rays in 2010 and hit the grand total of seven home runs; one of them was a walkoff against the Red Sox.
Johnson has played with the Rays sparingly in 2011, and he's hit only two home runs all season. The first was a ninth-inning shot that turned a 7-6 deficit into a 9-7 lead, and the Rays recorded their first victory -- one they would desperately need, as things turned out -- after opening the season with six straight losses. Johnson's second home run of the season came in the bottom of the ninth inning in the Rays' last victory, and pushed their chances of winning from less than five percent to more than fifty percent.
In the 12th inning, Evan Longoria hit his second home run of the game, this one to clinch the Wild Card. Longoria's home runs were improbable, as was the entire month of September for the Rays and the Red Sox and the Braves and the Cardinals. It's Longoria's home runs that will be remembered, and justifiably.
But if you're looking for a single living creature to symbolize the crazy mixed-up world in which we live and breathe and play and cheer, Daniel Ryan Johnson is your man.
I've not mentioned the St. Louis Cardinals, but I mean them no disrespect. When September dawned, the Cardinals trailed the Braves by 8½ games; at exactly the same moment, the Rays trailed the Red Sox by 9 games.
According to coolstandings.com, at that point -- and remember, this is merely four weeks ago -- the Rays had a 1.7-percent chance of reaching the playoffs, the Cardinals a 3.3-percent chance. At that point, the chance of the Rays and Cardinals reaching the playoffs was (roughly) 1 in 1,783.
Once every 1,783 times, a 1-in-1,783 shot will come through. And there are, if you go looking for them, a lot of 1-in-1,783 shots out there.
What made this one different is that we didn't have to go looking. This one just arrived in our laps, like a new puppy at Christmastime. And the sun might explode before we see this again.