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Watching "Laura" During Astros-Yankees Playoff & Other Thoughts on October Baseball

You learn something new from a classic noir film every time you see it - it's like finding a new harmony in a great piece of music. During Game Two of the long-awaited Houston Astros-New York Yankees American League championship series, I switched during the interminable commercial breaks to TCM's (Turner Classic Movies) showing of Otto Preminger's classic 1944 film noir "Laura". 

 
I had seen the film at least a few times, but the dialogue never seemed fresher. I had long remembered early on when detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is fiddling with a hand-held ball-bearing puzzle game called "Baseball".

 
This time I picked up something else. When supercilious Hollywood gossip columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) gets annoyed at detective Andrews for doodling with that game, Webb snaps: "Where do you get that? Something you confiscated in a raid on a kindergarten?"

"It calms me down," Andrews coolly replies.

 
I must admit, unlike Dana Andrews' detective Mark McPherson, baseball rarely calms me down. It stimulates me greatly, especially when the Orioles are playing. But in a post-season where I only really care that the Yankees' 10-year World Series-drought continues, I have enjoyed a lot of the games.

 
I am drawn in by the evident tension on the faces of the players.  This is not a time of year when "tomorrow is your best friend," a phrase I first heard from Bobby Valentine.  Every pitch is important in the post-season, and the best managers plan every game as if it is the seventh game of the World Series.

 
Obviously Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts hasn't learned that lesson.  He will return in 2020 and probably beyond because his LAD have won the NLWest division seven years in a row. But the Nats knocked out his Dodgers in the first round in a memorable climactic game in Los Angeles. 

 
Back-to-back homers by free agent-to-be Anthony Rendon and 20-year-old sensation Juan Soto tied it in the top of 8th off Clayton Kershaw, a great pitcher who is not used to being a reliever and is becoming a poster boy for October failure. 

 
Then in the top of the 10th veteran Howie Kendrick sent fair weather Dodger fans scurrying for the exits with a grand slam home run to dead center to cement a 7-3 victory.  I know it was a long game and LA fans always scurry to their cars at the first opportunity. It still struck me that the mass exit was extremely bush and insulting to the home team. 


Perhaps because I'm not emotionally involved with the Mets, I am happy for the Nats.  They exorcised their playoff ghosts by winning their first post-season series ever by beating LA.

 As I file this post, the Nats are one game away from their first World Series ever. 

 

By leading the Cardinals 3-0 in games, they are avenging their crushing loss to St. Louis seven years ago - when they couldn't hold a four-run lead in the 9th inning of the deciding game.

 
I'm someone who likes good starting pitching and Washington is loaded with great arms:  Former Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer, former number one overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg, the newly-signed free agent southpaw Patrick Corbin (who grew up a Yankee fan but wasn't offered enough $$$$ by Yankees), and the crafty veteran Anibal Sanchez.

 
If the Houston Astros can beat the Yankees in the ALCS - currently tied at one game apiece -  they also have big ticket starters in Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole (another onetime Yankee fan who chose to play at UCLA and later sign as free agent with Houston), and Zack Greinke. (Greinke suffers from a social anxiety disorder and it is painful to watch him do the required TV interviews with the press - I wish there were a way that he could respond in writing to questions from the probing scribes.) 

 

I'd rather take my chances with strong starting pitching and a couple of good relievers than using several pitchers just waiting for someone to not to have their best stuff that day. I am not a fan of "The Opener," a reliever who pitches an inning or two at the beginning and the rest of the bullpen completes the rest of the game.

 

The Yankees may do that in at least one of the upcoming games. They have not recently invested mega-bucks in starting pitchers.  It will certainly be interesting to see which philosophy wins out - the aces prepared for the long haul versus the ever-revolving door for relievers. 

 

It could be that the veteran Masahiro Tanaka and the young Luis Severino provide the innings that the Yanks will need to make their first World Series since 2009. Whatever, the old canard will still apply:  "Anything can happen in a short series."

 
Before I close, here's a tip of the cap to the Israeli Olympic baseball team that made the Tokyo 2020 competition by winning the European-African elimination tournament last month.  They beat out such amateur powers as Italy and the Netherlands.  

 

Danny Valencia, the former infielder with Twins-A's-Orioles, was perhaps the most recognizable member on the scrappy Israeli team.  I am proud to add that outfielder/DH Robb Paller, a mainstay on my alma mater Columbia Lions three-peat Ivy League champions of 2013-15, was also a key contributor to the victory. 

 
That's all for now but remember as always:  Take it easy but take it.

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On The Intensity/Integrity of Late September Baseball (corrected version) + "Porgy and Bess" at Met Opera + Kelli O'Hara Triumphs With NY Philharmonic

I knew as an Orioles fan that this first year of full-scale rebuilding was going to be difficult.  Leave it to my Birds, though, and especially rookie utility man Stevie Wilkerson, to end the season in Boston with a vivid example of how baseball can turn ecstasy into agony with shocking suddenness.

 

Their 162nd and last game of the season against the Red Sox in Fenway was tied 4-4 with two out in the bottom of the eighth.  Stevie Wilkerson, playing right field for only the tenth time, made a sensational leaping twisting catch, robbing Jackie Bradley Jr. of a two-run home run though barely missing landing in the right field stands.  (Turnabout was fair play because Bradley had robbed Orioles MVP Trey Mancini earlier in season at Camden Yards of a game-winning HR.)

 

Yet one inning later, Wilkerson was slow returning to the infield a single by Xander Bogaerts.  Running on the pitch from first base, Mookie Betts circled the bases to end the Red Sox's disappointing season on a high note.

 

(It won't appear in any of the often indecipherable analytic charts, but it seems to me that the Red Sox season was doomed early when the team split between black and Hispanic players and manager Alex Cora who didn't go to the White House to celebrate their 2018 championship with Donald Trump, and the white players who did go.)   

 
I have a lot of respect for teams long out of the race that play hard in late September. The Bosox and Birds have a history of that kind of intense play that make "the integrity of the game" not just an empty phrase. 

 
I recall back in 1976 when both teams had been eliminated by the resurgent Yankees.  Yet on the last day in the proverbial "meaningless game," they played 15 innings at Fenway before the Bosox won 4-3.     

 
To those teams who last week played genuine spoiler in the pennant races, I tip my cap. 

**The White Sox who started the Indians on their slide out of the playoffs by two victories in Chicago.  It was a sad ending for Cleveland who had played very well until the last week despite injuries to both the pitching staff and key regulars. The Tribe continues to own the longest World Series-victory drought of any historic team - no title since 1948.

 

**The Colorado Rockies salvaged some respect in the last two games of a very disappointing season.  They beat the Milwaukee Brewers in two dramatic extra-inning victories.  They prevented the Brew Crew from forcing a tie or even winning the NL Central over the Cardinals who had swept the Cubs in Chicago knocking them out of contention (and manager Joe Maddon into the unemployment line though not likely for long.) 

 

**The Diamondbacks get an honorable mention for playing hard in beating the Cardinals two in a row in Phoenix. It started St. Louis on a four-game losing streak. The Brewers' losses and Cardinals' young ace Jack Flaherty shutout effort during the 162nd game finally clinched the NL Central for the Redbirds. 

  

Now the Brewers must face the Washington Nationals on the road in the NL Wild Card

game on Tuesday October 1.  The Brew Crew deserves great credit for playing so well in much of September without Christian Yelich, the reigning NL MVP whose kneecap was broken by a foul ball off his bat. (The injury reminded me of the broken leg suffered by Oakland A's outfielder Jermaine Dye in the 2001 playoff against the Yankees that sadly shortened his career.)

 
I don't bet and I rarely make predictions.  But I have a feeling that the clock has struck midnight for the Brewers and the Nats will finally come up with a victory in a big post-season game, even if it is just a Wild Card game.  How they will fare as underdog against the defending league champion LA Dodgers is another question to be dealt with later this month.

 
As to the American League Wild Card game on Wednesday October 2, the Tampa Bay Rays will visit the antiquated and sanitarily challenged Oakland Coliseum to take on the A's.  Both teams are resourceful and talented with limited payrolls. They rarely play before big crowds.

 

I sure hope Oakland has reason to open their upper deck for what could be an exciting game.  The A's have a youthful group of largely farm-grown players, many of them from California including three star infielders, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson at the corners and emerging Marcus Simien at shortstop.

 

Whether with the Rays or A's can deal with the Astros and their home field advantage in the best-of-five Division Series is doubtful. Though the A's played the Astros very tough in regular season. 

 

The Yankees will be favored in their ALDS against their perennial patsy the Minnesota Twins. The matchup between the Atlanta Braves and Cardinals looks like a tossup with Braves having home field advantage.  No one really knows. Sl as the late great broadcaster Red Barber used to say, "That's why they play the games." To find out who is best.

 
It's tough for me to deal with the absence of daily regular season baseball now until late March 2020. But I am fortunate to live in NYC.  Vernon Duke asked in his great song, "Autumn In New York/ Why is it so inviting? Autumn in New York, it brings the thrill of first nighting."

 
Well, I didn't attend the first performance of the new production of "Porgy and Bess" at the Met Opera, but I do go on the last night of September.  It was a thrilling evening of opera with kudos deserved for everyone.

 

From the new production by James Robinson with its revolving stage that recreates the fictional fishing community Catfish Row; to choreographer Camille A. Brown in her Met debut; to the powerful all-black "Porgy and Bess" chorus; to the fabulous orchestra conducted by David Robertson (not the oft-injured relief pitcher); to all the singers led by Eric Owens and Angel Blue in the title roles. With special mention of Leah Hawkins' brief turn as the Strawberry Woman.

 
I had not realized until this production how organically the famous songs in the opera are connected to the story and plot development.  Beginning with Clara's opening rendition of "Summertime" to Serena's mournful "My Man Gone Now" to Porgy's "I Got Plenty of Nuttin'" to Sportin' Life's "It Ain't Necessarily So" to the repetitions of "Bess You Is My Woman Now" to the achingly beautiful trio of Porgy, Serena, and Maria near the end of the opera that rivals anything that Verdi or Mozart ever wrote in that form. 

 

I couldn't help thinking how much more Gershwin could have contributed to opera if he hadn't been taken from us at the age of 38.  "Porgy and Bess" runs a few more times through Oct 13.  Check out metopera.org

 
At a time when there are more and more disturbing discoveries of blackface and brown face incidents in both the US and Canada, "Porgy and Bess" deserves our attention because it was a genuine effort by George Gershwin and the librettists DuBose and Dorothy Heyward to delve into the lives of this unique Gullah black community outside of Charleston, South Carolina.    

 
One final music note:  In mid-September I was blessed to hear Kelli O'Hara sing Samuel Barber's beautifully succinct 16-minute tone poem, "Knoxville: Summer of 1915" with the New York Philharmonic under Jaap Van Zweden.  

 

The lyrical piece, based on the prologue to James Agee's "A Death in the Family," is ideal for O'Hara's lilting and compelling mezzo-soprano. She is branching out successfully from her heralded work in musical theatre.  I heard her as Despina in Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte" last season and she owned that saucy crucial role of the maid who is a co-conspirator in the plot to prove that men are not loyal to their women and women are not loyal to their men.

 
That's all for now about my ardent loves of baseball and music. Until later this month as the playoffs take shape, always remember:  Take it easy but take it! 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

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