09/29/2011 2:09PM

Dramatic wild-card races in baseball defied odds


LAS VEGAS – Wild indeed.

If you’re a baseball fan, you already know what I’m referring to after Wednesday night’s wild-card races came down to the final day, and late into the evening for East Coast fans in Boston, Atlanta, and Tampa. But I’ll try to give some perspective from Vegas as well as some thoughts that you haven’t seen pounding into the ground elsewhere.

A tip of the cap to Major League Baseball for the move from the traditional Sunday closing day. If these games had happened in the past, they wouldn’t have been followed by as many people, since the NFL would have stolen a lot of viewers or at least limited the games’ viewers to loyal fans of the teams involved. Throw in the non-stop commentary from experts and fans on Twitter and Facebook, and it turned into a national social networking phenomenon.

The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays entered the final day tied in the American League wild-card race, and the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals were tied in the National League. All were heavy favorites in their games Wednesday. The Red Sox were -190 vs. the Orioles, the Rays were -250 vs. the Yankees, the Braves were -180 vs. the Phillies, and the Cardinals were -190 vs. the Astros. But as we’ve seen many time in sports betting, just because a team is in a must-win situation doesn’t mean it will win. Usually, they’re in a must-win situation because they weren’t good enough in the first place and are incapable of just flipping the switch and playing great.

Actually, the night began with very little drama. The Cardinals coasted to an 8-0 win over the Astros, and the Rays fell behind, 7-0, to the Yankees. The Braves were fighting tooth-and-nail with the Phillies, and the Red Sox were leading the Orioles, 3-2, when that game went to a rain delay.

At the time, the offshore book Pinnacle had in-game wagering with the Yankees at -2500 (risk $25 for every $1 you want to profit) and the Rays at +1199 (nearly 12-1, which was certainly a short price for the historic rally they were about to pull off). While the Red Sox watched in their clubhouse during their rain delay, the Rays rallied to score six runs in the bottom of the eighth, and then pinch-hitter Dan Johnson homered for Tampa in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two strikes on him to send it to extra innings.

The Rays won in 12 innings on Evan Longoria’s walk-off homer just three minutes after the Red Sox lost their game, completing the biggest collapse in MLB history. Boston led the wild-card race by nine games Sept. 3 and went 7-19 down the stretch. No one had odds posted on teams to make or not make the postseason at that time because it was assumed the eight playoff spots were going to be wrapped up early this year. Last Saturday, the Lucky’s Race & Sports Books did post odds on the teams trying to catch the leaders and made the Rays +500 (odds of 5-1), still a longshot but possible, given the way they were playing compared with the Red Sox.

Atlanta’s collapse isn’t getting as much attention only because it’s being overshadowed by Boston’s. They were 8 1/2 games ahead of St. Louis on Sept. 8, and the Cardinals were seen as slightly longer shots than the Rays − +550 (odds of 11-2, or 5.5-1) last Saturday at Lucky’s.

First thing Thursday morning, Lucky’s posted its updated future-book odds, with the Phillies as the 8-5 favorite to win the World Series, followed by the Yankees (7-2), Tigers (6-1), Brewers (7-1), Rangers (15-2), Rays (8-1), and the Cardinals and Diamondbacks (both 13-1). The Phillies are -200 to win the NL pennant, the Brewers are 7-2, and the Cards and D-backs are 6-1. The Yankees are 11-10 to win the AL, with the Tigers and Rangers both at 3-1 and the Rays at 4-1.

While it will be hard to top what happened Wednesday night, series prices make it look like we should have some exciting series, even if it’s assumed the Phillies will roll over the Cardinals as a prohibitive -280 favorite. In the other NL series, the Brewers are a -155 favorite vs. the Diamondbacks, and in the AL the Rangers are -160 vs. the Rays at -140. The Yankees are just around -140 vs. the Tigers +120, obviously driven down by the fact they’ll probably face likely Cy Young winner Justin Verlander twice.

Back to the football

I went 1-1 with my posted NFL plays last week as the Broncos covered the 6.5-point spread in a 17-14 loss to the Titans, but I lost with the Falcons +1.5 vs. the Buccaneers.

Steelers +4 vs. Texans

The Las Vegas Hilton’s advance line on this game was Texans -2.5 before they lost to the Saints. It dipped to -2 when the Hilton reposted it Sunday afternoon, but then the Steelers struggled to beat the Colts on Sunday night, and the line was over a field goal by Monday morning. Now it’s up to 4. Even though early bettors seem to agree, I think it’s an overadjustment. The Steelers are still a top-tier team, whereas the Texans haven’t proved they can take that next step. I’ll gladly take the extra points.

PLAY: Steelers for 1 unit.

Broncos +13 vs. Packers

I’m not just taking this because the Broncos got me off the schneid. They’ve been competitive in every game this year, whereas the Packers aren’t as dominant as they were late last season. Despite their 3-0 straight-up record, they’re 2 plays from being 0-3 against the spread: the last play vs. the Saints, in which running back Mark Ingram was stopped at the 1-yard line, and the punt return touchdown by the Bears that was called back. Besides, double-digit dogs are 3-1 ATS so far this season, so I’m looking for them to continue barking.

PLAY: Broncos for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-1 for a net loss of 0.1 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 1-5 for a net loss of 4.5 units.