Few events in the history of mankind have shattered the world as much as what transpired on Thursday night. Nations quaked, civilizations stood in shock, the Earth nearly fell off its axis.
The occurrence that rocked the universe? The New York Yankees lost a game.
The Red Sox beat the Yankees 5-4 Thursday, preventing New York from sweeping the three-game series with its arch rival. That loss dropped the two superpowers into a tie for first place in the AL East. It also ended a streak in which the Yankees won 17 of 18 games, steamrolling a fearsome collection of opponents that included the Astros, Angels, Blue Jays, Twins, Cleveland, and Boston.
Experts expected the Yankees to be a top playoff contender this season, following last year's run to the American League Championship Series, the Hot Stove blockbuster that brought Giancarlo Stanton to the Bronx, and the expected development of top prospects and 20-something big leaguers already on the roster. Still, the Yanks have surged to their best start in 15 years. They've also joined an exclusive group of teams that racked up 17 wins in 18 tries.
What does the Yankees' incredible streak tell us about that team's chances this season (not to mention Boston's chances, given that the Red Sox also reeled off a 17-1 stretch this year)? For all the star power that the Baby Bombers possess, it's also worth asking this: Just how good is this team, really?
According to CBS Sports' research team, since 1901, 54 teams put up a streak of 17-1 or better (that number grows to 56 if you include this year's Yankees and Red Sox). The last five teams to do so all went on to lose in the Divisional Series. The last team to make it to its League Championship Series was the 116-win Mariners... who lost to the Yankees. In other words, the last six teams to win 17 of 18 games during the regular season have failed to make it to the World Series, much less win it all. The last team to pull that off was the 1991 Twins.
Of the 54 teams to go 17-1 during the course of a season, just 11 (20 percent) have gone on to win it all. A much higher number (19) have failed to make the playoffs, though no team with such a streak has fallen short of the postseason since the 1987 Brewers.
Multiple factors helped drive the Yankees' streak, some of them potentially causal, other probably coincidental.
File Giancarlo Stanton's spot in the batting order under probably coincidental. Stanton started the season hitting third in the order, then moved to the cleanup spot on April 19, two games before the start of the 17-1 run. He then hit fourth in every one of his starts from that point through Wednesday's game, which marked win number 17 in the streak. Here's how Stanton's numbers compare in the two lineup spots:
Even with those massive recent power numbers, Stanton hasn't come close to leading the charge for the Yankees' best-in-baseball offense. That honor has been a neck-and-neck battle this season: Aaron Judge rated as the fourth-best hitter in the American League on a park-adjusted basis through Wednesday's final game of the streak, batting a cool .302/.428/.579...just ahead of Didi Gregorius's phenomenal .291/.382/.622 effort (ninth-best in the AL).
Recognizing the Yankees' offense as the highest-scoring unit in the majors doesn't fully capture what's happened, though. It's what they've done in big spots that really stands out.
Fangraphs breaks down game situations based on stakes, using high-, medium-, and low-leverage labels to describe those moments. In high-leverage spots -- late in games, with the score close, and often runners on base -- the Yankees have hit an incredible .330 this season. That's far and away the highest mark in the majors, with no other team even topping .300.
More than a century of baseball history tells us that "clutch" performances aren't usually sustainable over the long haul. That makes the Yankees' early-season knack for breaking opponents spirits late in games and winning close contests (only one team has fared better in one-run games than the Yankees have at 7-3... the Red Sox, at 11-4) unlikely to last.
Still, as ace CBS Sports colleague Mike Axisa wrote, multiple indicators point to the Yankees actually improving. A healthier roster, easier schedule, and a more productive Gary Sanchez could give an already sky-high team even more boosts. If the Yankees have one notable weakness it's the starting rotation, with Sonny Gray rocking a 6.00 ERA and lefty Jordan Montgomery out up to two months. The success of the Yankees' scouting and player development efforts, combined with better health as the season progresses, gives the team a slew of trade chips to dangle in the search for better options in the middle of the rotation.
Throw in a typically loaded bullpen and a defense that ranks third in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved, and you have a ballclub that can beat you in many ways. Given how loaded the Red Sox also look, the two fierce AL East Rivals could go beyond owning the best record in baseball as we approach the quarter-pole of the season.
Remember that group of 17-1 streaking teams? 2018 marks just the fourth time since 1935 that two clubs have gone 17-1 in the same season. We've seen two teams with such streaks play each other in the playoffs a total of three times: The White Sox and Cubs faced off in 1906, the A's and Giants met in 1913, and the A's battled the Red Sox in 1988. If the current trends were to continue, a New York-Boston faceoff in the ALCS this year could go down as one of the best October matchups in history.