Luck Be a Poorly Defined Word TonightThere are two kinds of luck in baseball, and one of them, the one Branch Rickey talked about, isn't really luck at all. There's word for it, accurate but a little high-falutin' for baseball discourse: serendipity. To see the pictures in the dictionary beside both words, we need only look at the 2013 Red Sox.
Serendipity is not chance. It's when things work out better than could possibly be expected. It implies prior planning on the part of its recipient, like going to the hardware store for supplies for urgent home repairs and winning prizes for being the store's one-millionth customer. And isn't that a fine analogy for the Sox?
The team planned to improve on its wretched 2012 performance, took steps that realistically insured it would improve, and watched with delight as every plan, reasonable expectation and downright forlorn hope came true. Ballplayers are by necessity confident and optimistic souls, but if they were honest, I'll bet more than a few Sox would admit that on Opening Day, their goals did not include the World Series.
It's one thing to expect that Jon Lester would improve from 2012. Career worsts are as rare as career bests. That's just baseball. Serendipity is 2013 for John Lackey, David Ortiz and Koji Uehara. All were players the Sox committed to more or less from necessity.. All had not merely competent performances, but All-Star level ones. Ordinarily, plugging three new All-Stars into a lineup costs, oh, $100 million a year for six to 10 years.
Serendipity is Mike Napoli. One of baseball's most traditional personnel moves is acquiring a guy who just kills you with his bat. It almost never works out as hoped, since the acquisition ignores the role played by the team's own pitchers in getting it killed by said batter, but Napoli sure did.
This takes us to the ALCS. Here's where luck, true luck, unpredictable random chance, has stepped in to assist the Sox. Luck is Miguel Cabrera. Injuries have transformed a batter of historic accomplishment into a weak singles hitter barely able to stagger from base to base without the assistance of a handtruck. Can't plan for that. Just take the break and be grateful.
We will point out that said luck blessed the Oakland A's just a week or so ago, and they couldn't do much with it. The thing is, in the realm of ineffable, indefinable and despite what Nate Silver will tell you, quite real cosmic phenomena, serendipity is far, far, far more powerful than luck.
Not as powerful as Justin Verlander, though. Serendipity had better be on its game tonight.