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And Then There Were Two: Houston-LA Dodgers Get Ready for World Series (revised with Rose Bowl update)

"Sports Illustrated," often accused of jinxing players with cover stories, must be feeling vindicated. Three years ago Ben Reiter wrote a cover story predicting the Astros as World Series champions in 2017.

Starting Tuesday Oct 24 the Astros will have a chance to fulfill that prophecy when they meet the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chavez Ravine in Game 1. They triumphed over the Yankees in the seven full games of the AL Championship Series.

They won every home game at Minute Maid Park (which used to be called Enron Field until that corporation fell in disgrace). Houston did play pitifully in the three games in New York, undoubtedly cowed by the loud Yankee Stadium fans and the aura of invincibility they like to project.

Yet the Yankees were equally punchless in their four losses in Houston, scoring a total of only three runs. Justin Verlander’s dominance in his two starts for the Astros was not surprising, and he was the deserved MVP of the ALCS.

Yet the Yankees put up very little fight in the final game against the combined offerings of Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers, two good pitchers when on their game but not exactly aces. Morton got the win for 5 innings of work and McCullers got the very rare 4-inning save.

There was some great defense in the ALCS. Right fielder Aaron Judge stole two home runs from the Astros, one in each park. Center fielder George Springer cemented Houston’s last two victories with similarly outstanding grabs. The Astro double play combination of Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve outplayed their Yankee counterparts Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro.

Not enough can be said about the all-around play and leadership by example of Altuve who listed at 5’ 7” 155 pounds is one of the smallest players in MLB. Yet he has won three out of the last four AL batting titles showing power as well as an ability to spray balls to all fields.

The Dodgers, in what 90-year-old former manager Tommy Lasorda loves to call “The Fall Classic,” will be a formidable opponent. In their first World Series since 1988, they won the most games in baseball in 2017 and will have the home field advantage.

Clayton Kershaw gets the nod in the opener likely against fellow lefty Dallas Keuchel, he of the beard that reminds me of one of the Smith Brothers (cough drop manufacturers for you youngsters reading).

Kershaw, the $32 million a year/three time Cy Young award winner, is at the top of his game. He wants to improve on his over-4 point ERA in post-season play.

Another southpaw 37-year-old Rich Hill gets LA's Game 2 nod.
Hill is a nice story - a journeyman originally signed by the Cubs, he has endured several injuries over the years. He bounced to many teams including the Orioles briefly and the Red Sox and the A’s. He also pitched in Asia trying to keep his dream alive.

The deep-pocketed Dodgers signed him to a three-year $36 million contract last off-season. He has been a consistent pitcher when not bothered by nagging hand blisters.

Hill attended the University of Michigan where one of his roommates was catcher-utility player Jake Fox. Last I heard Fox was still playing in the independent leagues after sipping cups of coffee with the Pirates, A's and O's.

As you probably know, I love acronyms. Fox once scribbled in his glove T.E.W.S.I.C.:
To Everyone Who Said I Couldn't. I wouldn't be surprised if Rich Hill wrote or thought something very similar in his long journey to The Show.

The Dodgers have another rewarding story in utility man in Kike (short for Enrique) Hernandez. A journeyman from Puerto Rico, he was obtained from the Marlins (along with versatile catcher Austin Barnes) in the trade for second baseman Dee Gordon. Hernandez belted three home runs in the Dodgers' clinching 11-1 rout of the Cubs in the NLCS.

Yu Darvish, the Japanese pitcher of Iranian descent picked up from the Texas Rangers late this season, probably gets the nod for Game 3. I know the international wing of MLB was salivating at the thought of Darvish pitching against the Yankees’ Japanese import Masohiro Tanaka. But you can’t always get what you want (to coin a phrase).

At the back of a deep Dodgers pitching staff looms Curacao’s Kenley Jansen, a onetime 6’ 5” 280 pound catcher who has become 2017’s best closer. New Yorkers that can forgive Walter O’Malley for taking the Brooklyn Dodgers to LA in 1957 might find some New York connections of interest on the Dodgers roster.

Justin Turner, a former Mets utility player, has blossomed into a standout third baseman on both sides of the ball. First baseman Cody Bellinger, a shoo-in for NL Rookie of the Year, is the son of Clay Bellinger who earned two World Series rings as a utility player on the Yankees last dynasty of the late 1990s.

No doubt MLB was craving building up a battle between top rookies Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger in the World Series but there should be no absence of drama in this Series. I think the Dodgers will win but I’m hoping for a long and dramatic series. Because once again I say - “The only reason to play baseball is to keep winter away.”

That’s all for now - Columbia and Wisconsin football remain undefeated and I am binging on BIRGing - Basking In Reflected Glory. Don’t know how long it will last but nice to enjoy the streaks while they last.

I need to make a correction from my last blog. I said that I'd be satisfied with a Wisconsin win in the Rose Bowl as Big Ten champion. But this year the historic Pasadena CA site is part of the playoff system.

So if the Badgers make the Rose Bowl, they'll have to be part of the four-team championship playoff. That means they'll have to run the table impressively to smell the roses and the ultimate crown.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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The Joys of Autumn in New York, Part I

It has been more like late summer or even mid-summer in Gotham the last few weeks.
I am not complaining except that there is a shocking lack of fall foliage so far.

As you know I am not a Yankees fan but they and the Dodgers are clearly the hottest teams left in the post-season. The Dodgers are undefeated after sweeping Arizona in three games in round one of the playoffs - NLDS. And now they have a seemingly impregnable lead of 3-0 in the NLCS over the soon ex-champion Cubs.

The sports highlight of my fall has been the undefeated Columbia Lions football team. They beat Penn in overtime on Saturday October 14 - An absolutely thrilling game before over 13,000 fans at Homecoming way north in Manhattan at the Baker Field complex west of 218th Street and Broadway.

It was the first win over Penn in 21 years and was very sweet for Columbia coach Al Bagnoli who coached the Quakers to most of those wins over Columbia and brought many Ivy League titles to the storied Philadelphia campus.

After the dramatic win, Bagnoli wisely and accurately credited the coming of age of the players who rallied from a 14-point deficit to score 3 TDs in the 4th quarter. In overtime, it was senior quarterback Anders Hill who threw a perfect 24-yard pass to sensational sophomore wide receiver Josh Wainwright for the winning points.

Wainwright spiked the ball with emphasis and the celebration began. Ecstatic fans almost tore down the goalposts until security and calmer heads arrived on the scene.

Columbia faces two tough road games with also-undefeated Dartmouth this Saturday Oct 21. Up next is a visit to Yale on Oct 28 before a home tussle with Harvard on Nov 4. The season ends with Cornell in Ithaca on Nov 11 and a home finale against Brown on Nov 18.

Columbia is a fun team to watch on offense and defense. Sophomore linebacker Michael Murphy was seemingly all over the field in the Penn win and won league accolades for his play.

In his third season Bagnoli clearly seems to have turned the program around.
There is more pride and less resignation in Columbia fandom, a truly welcome development. Expecting to win instead of fearing the worst is a wonderful feeling!
(But believe me, that feeling of dread doesn't die totally after decades of drought.)

My other alma mater Wisconsin is also undefeated but their offense has sputtered at times. They have a remarkable freshman running back in Jonathan Taylor from Salem NJ (not far from the home of former Heisman winner Ron Dayne). But it has been Badger defense that has excelled all year.

The schedule is admittedly weak in 2017 so the road to the playoff in Indianapolis against probably Ohio State or Penn State seems smooth. But it says here that the
offense has to become more consistent if the Badgers hope for a major bowl.

I personally doubt given the weak schedule that they will make the four-team playoff. But as a traditionalist, an appearance in the Rose Bowl would suit me fine.

On the arts and musical side, I've experienced some great performances lately.
I saw the opening of the Orpheus season at the 92nd Street Y. The conductor-less chamber orchestra featured special guest cellist Mischa Maisky.

Citizen of the world fits the intense and lyrical Maisky born in Latvia, educated in Russia, now residing in Israel. His renditions of Arensky and the Tchaikovsky "Andante Cantabile" as an encore connected deeply with my Russian roots.

I also caught the farewell performance of ballet star Robert Fairchild with the New York City Ballet this past Sunday Oct 15. Only 30, Fairchild is the youngest dancer ever to be honored with a "farewell".

He enjoyed several standing ovations at the end and graciously handed out roses to all of the company's principal dancers. Fairchild may be leaving ballet. but he is in line for many musical theatre and other opportunities.

He should be a delightful and rewarding presence on the arts scene for years to come. I loved him as the male lead in "An American In Paris" that ran recently for over a year at the Palace Theatre on Broadway.

I'll be back next time with final thoughts on the MLB baseball season and Orpheus's next performance on Oct 26 at Carnegie Hall with guest soloist pianist Andre Watts.

For now: Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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