Mathematically, yesterday’s loss to Baltimore wasn’t a must-win for the Rays. The Rays are still in the thick of the playoff hunt and still have plenty of opportunities to win the AL East.
But, in a decidedly different way, the Rays’ postseason hopes may have died yesterday. Baseball is two games being played simultaneously.
There is an odds-based game where outcomes can be predicted with shocking accuracy. (I am still coming to terms with this understanding of the game but the SABRites are winning me over). That is the game in real life.
Then there is the game that is played in the heads of players, managers, and average fans. For players in particular, the mental aspect to the game is as important, if not more important, than the physical aspect. And, that mental aspect of the game isn’t housed inside the brains of a lot of mathematicians. (After all, 90% of the game is half mental…)
So, even though yesterday’s game wasn’t a must win mathematically, it was a must win emotionally because BJ Upton declared it a must win. And, when a player or team declares a game a must-win, only to lose, the player or team logically concludes that they have severely limited their options going forward. The great American philosopher Crash Davis put it this way:
If a ballplayer thinks he’s playing well because he’s getting laid, or not getting laid, or because he’s wearing women’s underwear, then he is. And you of all people should know that, Annie.
In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter that the Rays still have a chance. It doesn’t sound to me like they believe they have a chance (Marc Topkin mentioned on yesterday’s pre-game show that the clubhouse could barely hide it’s disappointment with the first two games in the Baltimore series). And if they don’t believe they have a chance, they don’t.