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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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"Collecting Lottery Tickets" - What Oriole Baseball Has Come To - Plus A Shout-Out to "Toni Stone"

 

I guess the trade this past weekend of the Orioles' most reliable pitcher Andrew Cashner to division rival Red Sox was not surprising. He will be a free agent at the end of the season, and conventional wisdom says that the Orioles couldn't expect much in value for him.

 
Baltimore got two 17-year-old Venezuelans playing in the Dominican summer leagues, outfielder Elio Prado and infielder Noelwarth Romero. Both are undoubtedly years away from making The Show if they ever come close to the majors.   

 

According to Dan Connolly, the diligent Oriole correspondent for "The Athletic" online subscription website, the Orioles are "collecting lottery tickets" as they go through the complete "rebuild" of their largely unproductive organization. 

 
My response to that explanation is:  Who is going to pitch for the rest of this season?

The once-heralded Dylan Bundy went on the injured list after he gave up seven runs in the first inning of his first post-All Star Game start.  His knee was hurting during his warmup, but he didn't tell anybody until after he got shelled. 

 
Rookie southpaw John Means, the Orioles' lone All-Star this season, got rocked by Tampa Bay in his first post-ASG start.  He can't be expected to carry a full load.

 
Couldn't the Orioles have gotten more for Cashner, 32, who is having a career year - 9-3 for a team that has only 28 wins?  I would hate to think that the hasty trade was made because they feared that he - like Bundy - could get injured before the July 31 trade deadline.

 
What pains me about the Cashner trade is that he wanted to stay in Baltimore. He was committed to the rebuild. The Orioles were his fifth major league organization and he was looking for a home, especially now with his wife expecting. 

 

He was a Cubs first round draft pick in 2008, signed out of TCU, the same program that produced former Oriole hurler now with Phllies Jake Arrieta and Cardinals corner infielder Matt Carpenter.  Ultimately Cashner was traded to the Padres in the Anthony Rizzo deal and later spent time with the Marlins and Rangers. 

 
Signed to a two-year contract before the 2018 season, Cashner became a leader of the Orioles, not just the pitchers. I think I'm a pretty good judge watching on TV of who is faking intensity and who isn't.  You could see that the bearded 6' 6" hurler cared about competing and winning. 

 
His passion reminded me a little of Pete Vuckovich, the Brewers right-hander who I vividly remember once competed so hard during a playoff game against the Yankees in the 1981 strike-marred season that he refused to leave the mound despite throwing up, evidently battling some kind of ailment.

 
There was another admirable aspect in Cashner's background.  Understanding his son's passion for baseball, Andrew's father built a diamond in the back yard of the family home in Texas for Andrew to practice on. 

 
Oriole manager Brandon Hyde was effusive in his praise of Cashner, wishing him well in Boston except when he pitched against the Orioles.  I enthusiastically second that sentiment as he makes his debut tonight (Tues July 16) at Fenway against the Blue Jays, another "rebuilding" team.

 
Oriole fans are now fearful that first baseman/right fielder Trey Mancini may be the next to go.  He is currently in the worst slump of his career, but he continues to play hard and welcomes the role of young veteran leader on an unproven team. The converted infielder Mychal Givens will probably be dealt to teams looking for bullpen help.

 
We lived through a wave of trades last year at this time: Manny Machado to the Dodgers (now doing fine with the Padres on his $300 million plus contract); Jonathan Schoop to the Brewers (now a regular contributor on the AL Central first-place Twins); Kevin Gausman and Brad Brach to the Braves (where Gausman has been injured and ineffective and Brach, now with the Cubs, is also struggling).   

 
There are glimmers of hope in improved Oriole minor league play at the Double A Bowie level and the lower minors at Delmarva (Low Class A) and Aberdeen (Short Season). But it will be maddening if the Orioles unload Mancini and Givens and other players and get so little in return as what they received for Cashner. 

 
The new regime can't be thinking that Hawaiian shirt and straw hat fedora giveaways will substitute for a real plan for the future, can they?  Don't want to answer that question!

 
At least, for fans of other teams, there is plenty of excitement and weeks of hope, however illusory, ahead.  By its very nature, baseball always surprises.  

 

For example, nothing was more astonishing than former Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud's three-homer game against the Yankees last night Monday July 15. His third dinger, a 9th inning blast off Aroldis Chapman, led the spunky Tampa Bay Rays to a 5-4 victory. It kept alive the Rays' flickering hopes of catching the Yankees in the AL East divisional race.

 

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT! 
Before I close this latest post, I want to urge you in the New York City area to see "Toni Stone," playing through Sunday August 11 at the Laura Pels Theatre (115 W 46th Street just west of Fifth Avenue). The comfy Pels is one of the theaters that is part of the Roundabout Theater group.

  

Rarely does a solid piece of historical research, Martha Ackmann's "Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone" (Lawrence Hill Books/Chicago Review Press, 2010), get transformed into exciting theatre. Thanks to Lydia R. Diamond's adaptation, "Toni Stone" succeeds in viscerally bringing to life the remarkable story of the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues. 

 
There is a bravura performance by longtime Off-Broadway luminary April Matthis in the title role. She is aided by a supporting cast of eight talented male actors playing a variety of roles. Kudos must also be given to the crisp direction of Pam McKinnon and the brilliant choreography by Camille A. Brown.

 
I was enthralled from the opening of the first act when Toni Stone delivers a monologue in praise of the wonder and drama of baseball. (The writing reminded me of Roger Angell's elegiac essay, "On The Ball," from a 1976 New Yorker magazine, anthologized in "Five Seasons"). 

 
As a black tomboy in segregated America, Toni Stone had a hard time gaining acceptance.  "People weren't ready for me," she told Martha Ackmann when belatedly - she died in 1996 - she was rediscovered in the last years of her life, living for decades as a nurse in the SF Bay area.  "I wasn't classified. I was a menace to society."

 
But what an exciting achieving life she led - good enough to replace Hank Aaron as second baseman on the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952 when he went into the Braves organization. A versatile woman athlete better than the legendary Babe Didrikson.  Good enough to play semi-pro baseball into her 60s in the Bay area. (Many thanks to Minnesota's great baseball historian Stew Thornley for his help in providing some additional details.)

 
It is a credit to Lydia Diamond's script that she has streamlined a lot of the stories in Toni Stone's life. She establishes a good dramatic flow without overburdening us with facts that could overwhelm the non-sports fan. Blessedly, the script rarely gets preachy.

 
My only quibble is in the misleading treatment of Gabby Street, the former major league catcher and World Series-winning manager, who befriended teenaged Toni when she enrolled in 1935 in his St. Paul, Minnesota baseball school.

 
A baseball traditionalist from the Deep South, best known as a member of the Washington Senators who once caught a baseball thrown from the Washington Monument, Street at first wanted nothing to do with Toni's desire for baseball instruction. 

 
She wouldn't accept no for an answer and ultimately Street realized that Toni's passion and talent were genuine.  For her 15th birthday he even gave her a pair of baseball spikes, a gift she always treasured.  So I felt it was a rare cheap shot for Toni in the play to say that Street was a member of the Klan. 


Despite this one jarring note, I still heartily recommend seeing "Toni Stone" at the Laura Pels Theatre through Aug. 11. The play moves to the Arena Theatre in DC in the fall and early next year in San Francisco.

 
That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it! 

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