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"Pain and Glory" Sums Up Nats' Miraculous Season; It's Also A Great New Pedro Almodovar Film

"'Pain and Glory' might be a good title for a film on the MLB season that will likely end with Houston's come-from-behind triumph over the Washington Nationals in the World Series.  Momentum "waves" in baseball are amazing creations but they can vanish as quickly as they arise." 

 
That, dear readers, was the opening paragraph for an end-of-season summation I started after the Houston Astros limped into Washington for the middle three games of the World Series. They had lost the first two games at home to the red-hot Nats, winners of eight post-season games in a row and the outlook looked dim. 

 

Yet in baseball's marvelously unpredictable ways, it turned out that the Astros were alive and well.  And the Nats maybe tried too hard to bring the first World Series victory to Washington in nearly a century.  They scored only 3 runs total as the Astros swept three convincingly. 

 
Yet the staunch arms of Stephen Strasburg and ailing Max Scherzer carried the Nats to victory before stunned full houses in Houston expecting the Astros' second World Series win in three years. 

 

For the first time ever in the 115-year history of the World Series, the visiting team won every game.  Since the Series went a full seven, it is a record that will never be broken, only tied. 

 

The Nats are very deserving champions, coming from behind in each of the five elimination games they played - one against the Brewers in the Wild Card game, two against the Dodgers in the divisional series, and these last two in Houston.

 
I thought Will Harris, who gave up the lead-changing Game 7 home run to Howie "Grand Slam" Kendrick (Kendrick had knocked out the Dodgers with a grand slam in the divisional series), gave a very sportsmanlike quote after the game:  "I think I made a pretty good pitch.  He just made a championship play for a championship team." (Quoted by Ken Davidoff in the New York Post, October 31st.)

 
I jotted some other wonderful quotes during the intense month of October for those teams lucky to play that deeply into autumn.  Here are a couple more:

 
"The lights shine brighter, but you can't get blinded by them."  Tampa Bay Rays catcher Travis D'Arnaud on the atmosphere of October.  Travis never could quite put it together for the Mets but contributed significantly to the Rays' run that took the Astros to the final game of a five-game series.

 
"Those who can, evaluate; those who can't, measure." Nats gm Mike Rizzo defending his use of advance scouting by his staff of older veteran scouts and special assistants.  Quoted by Bob Nightengale in USA Today, October 24, 2019.

 

The high-tech-drenched front office of the Astros has done away with advanced scouting by human beings.  They think video and the latest developments in "advanced metrics" are an adequate substitute. Maybe they shouldn't be so sure of themselves. 

 

BTW according to the New York Post, the founder of sabrmetrics Bill James recently resigned from the Red Sox as they are refiguring their front office. He reportedly said he should have left two years ago.  

 

AND NOW THE TIME OF REGROUPING AND WAITING FOR SPRING HAS BEGUN:
It is always a sad day when baseball leaves us and we must face winter alone.  But there's plenty of off-season news to keep us occupied.   If the 2019 season was a very rare one when no manager was fired, the axes have come down with a vengeance in October.

 
There will be at least eight new managers in 2020 with the Mets opening still very much in doubt. The former Met infielder Tim Bogar may be one of the finalists and from the little bit I have heard from people I respect, he would be my favorite.  He was the Nats' first base coach in this championship year and has worked for other organizations. 

 

But the former agent/turned Mets gm Brodie von Wagenen might be looking for a bigger name.   He let a so-called "big name" Joe Girardi slip away to the Phillies, but it says here that he won't regret it.  Girardi won his only championship with the 2009 Yankees, and his switch from number 27 to number 28 - for the next championship - never materialized. 

 
It is hard to believe that there won't be a changeover in Seattle.  With the NL pennant for the Nats, born the Montreal Expos in 1969, the Mariners are now the only one of the 30 MLB franchises that has never been in a World Series.

 

But there have been no rumors of a change in Seattle.  How long can a team peddle the memories of now-retired Ichiro Suzuki and quickly-fading "King Felix" Hernandez to its fans?

 
Before I conclude this Halloween evening post, I corrected one of my many cultural shortcomings by seeing my first Pedro Almodovar movie last week.  His cinematic reverie "Pain and Glory" about the creative block of a film director/writer played by the marvelous Antonio Banderas is highly recommended.

 
Madrid and its environs comes alive in this film as Mexico City did in last year's Oscar-winning film "Roma".   Both begin with opening water scenes that immediately draw one into the artist's malleable world.  An original music score by Alberto Iglesias provides an alluring background touches to the film.


In addition to Banderas's absorbing performance, the gorgeous and talented Penelope Cruz shines in flashbacks as Banderas's mother. Julieta Serrano, who frequently is cast in Almodovar's films, adds a somber quality as his mother as an older woman; Asier Flores is charming as Banderas's precocious character as a boy, and Asier Exteandria adds proper melodramatic flair to his role as an actor who has long feuded with Banderas but loves the chance to play in roles created by his friend/adversary. 

 
This film is not "in wide release," as they say, but is certainly worth a jaunt down to the Angelika Film Center on Houston and Mercer Streets on the Soho-Greenwich Village border.

 
That's all for now.  Without baseball life will be less rewarding but I'll be around trying to take in as much of the sporting, musical, and movie culutre of my "home town".  In the meantime, always remember:  Take it easy but take it!    

 

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Prize Fight Intensity On Display in Baseball Playoffs

After watching the Yankees-Minnesota first inning last Tuesday Oct 3 (Bobby Thomson Day BTW in 1951 and Dave Winfield's birthday), I couldn’t help thinking of the first round of the Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns middleweight fight in April 1985.

More haymakers were thrown in the first round of that classic fight than in most entire bouts (Hagler won it by a third-round KO - I saw it on small theatre TV at Madison Square Garden’s long-gone Felt Forum.)

The Twins hit two HRs and knocked out Yankee ace Luis Severino in first inning. But Curacao’s pride Didi Gregorius smacked a three-run dinger to tie the game immediately, and Yanks won going away.

Nothing like playoff games to reveal intensity a la boxing’s concentrated mayhem. (I’m not an ardent boxing fan because the aim of the sport is really to concuss your rival. But I’m a flawed human being who does believe in a fair fight with no favor.)

And with the exception of LA Dodgers sweep of the Diamondbacks, the playoffs have been intense and gripping (despite the length of the games due to extra commercials and incessant meetings between catchers and pitchers).

We’ll see if Cleveland can continue in the playoffs by winning Game 5 at home tomorrow night (Wed Oct 11). “Momentum in baseball is the next day’s starting pitcher” will be truer than ever. Cleveland ace Corey Kluber will be matched against the former Indian CC Sabathia.

Kluber was treated rudely by the Yankees in the now-infamous Game 2 - you know the one where Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, the obsessive note-taker with the big thick looseleaf book, didn’t appeal a bad call on a hit-by-pitch. And moments later Indians leader Francisco Lindor hit a grand-slammer to bring the Indians back into a game they won in extra innings.

Just hope it is a good game like the classic Game 3 in which Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka won a gripping 1-0 shutout that proved again that nothing quite beats a low-scoring baseball game with plenty of base runners but stout pitching.
Revived Yankee first baseman Greg Bird homered deep into the upper right field stands off usually impregnable reliever Andrew Miller for the game's only run.

It would be nice for Cleveland if they can get injured slugger Edwin Encarnacion back into the lineup. And if their number three hitter Jose Ramirez finds his hitting stroke.
The playoffs, being so short compared to the long grind of the regular season where “tomorrow is your best friend,” intensify slumps. Hope J Ramirez snaps out of it.

Meanwhile Houston eliminated the Red Sox three games to one. The Astros embarrassed punchless Boston in the first two games in Texas by identical 8-2 scores.
The Red Sox salvaged some respect by winning the third game at home and leading the fourth one by one run into the 8th.

But the talented young Alex Bregman, a natural shortstop now playing third because of the emergence of Carlos Correa at short, homered to tie it. And then former Red Sox outfielder Josh Reddick hit an opposite field single to give the Astros the lead in their ultimate 5-4 win.

The only blemish on the Astros performance was center fielder George Springer’s botching balls in Fenway Park’s tricky deep center field. On Sunday he played a catchable ball into a double when he didn’t realize he had more room to catch it.

Yesterday (Monday Oct 9) Springer allowed an inside-the-park home run to talented Red Sox 20-year-old rookie third baseman Rafael Devers when the ball ricocheted wildly off the metal wall into Fenway’s vast right field.

For Houston’s sake I hope Springer plays better on the road in the upcoming ALCS either in Cleveland or New York. Or maybe Jake Marisnick returns to the lineup.

In the National League, the Cubs have taken a 2-1 lead over the Washington Nationals. The pitching has been great in this series - the defense not so great.
I was glad that the Nats at least won a game at home before heading to Wrigley Field for Games 3 and 4. They'll have to conquer Jake Arrieta to stay alive.

Washington has not won a playoff series since they returned to the majors in 2005 as the former Montreal Expos. It looks like they will have their work cut out for them to break that bad streak.

Before I close, I want to tip my cap to some of the insights of the Fox Sports One team covering Boston-Houston, Joe Davis and former players David Cone and AJ Pierzynski.

Cone, whose first team was the KC Royals, paid homage to the former Kansas City reliever the late great Dan Quisenberry who once noted that Fenway’s Green Monster Wall had a heartbeat and as the games got close, you felt it beating.

It was also Quisenberry that described the secret to his success: “Thirty ground balls, thirty strikeouts, thirty great plays.”

Cone, Davis, and Pierzinski also deserve kudos for praising Alex Bregman’s confident take of a pitch seconds before he hit his tying home over the Green Monster off Red Sox ace closer Craig Kimbrel.

Just remember as these games go on until the end of the month - “The only reason to play baseball is to keep winter away.” Next time I hope to say about my two alma maters currently undefeated on the gridiron - Columbia (4-0) and Wisconsin (5-0).
Both have tough games ahead so not feeling overconfident.

In the meantime, always remember: “take it easy but take it."
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