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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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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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