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Let's Hope The World Series Will Match The Drama of the Playoffs

Baseball fans have to feel blessed that we've had gripping games to fill our October nights during this pandemic and the immense uncertainty about our future as a republic. It was only the third time since MLB went to seven-game championship series that both leagues came down to Game 7 dramas.

 

For six innings, the Braves-Dodgers NLCS final game looked like a classic in the making. Braves took early lead, Dodgers tied it in the third on clutch two-out single by young catcher Will Smith from University of Louisville. 

 

To me Smith was one of the unsung heroes of the Dodgers victory.  He hit a game-turning three-run homer against Braves southpaw reliever Will Smith to win a previous game. 

 

It was quickly announced that it was the first time in the playoffs that a player hit a homer against a pitcher with the same name.  What I want to know:  WHEN DID IT HAPPEN IN THE REGULAR SEASON?  No word at press time. 

 

Smith also made the key defensive play thwarting a big Braves rally when they gained the lead again.  He ran Dansby Swanson back to third base when he broke too soon for the plate on a grounder to third. Justin Turner made a great tag on Swanson heading home and then threw out young Austin Riley who delayed going to third from second.

 

The Dodger bullpen then shut down the Braves totally for the rest of the game.  You just knew that sooner or later they would score and that they did on a Cody Bellinger home run

in the bottom of the 7th.

 

A 2018 NL MVP, Bellinger has not had a good year but if he gets on a hot streak that Dodger lineup will be hard to beat. But don't count out the newly crowned AL titleists Tampa Bay Rays.

 

Rays fans told me that I wouldn't jinx them by my ode last week to their beating the Yankees.  It allowed us to celebrate YED, Yankee Elimination Day, that special holiday that should but doesn't teach humility to the outrageous entitlement of too many Yankee fans.

 

The Houston Astros under Dusty Baker's quietly passionate leadership did throw a major scare into Tampa Bay. They won three close games in a row after losing the first three.

But a first inning home run by Randy Arozarena, the sensation from Cuba who now lives in Mexico, gave the Rays a two-run lead in the first inning.

 

Talk about the little things that determine close games.  The TV camera caught Houston starter Lance McCullers Jr. hesitating before he threw the fateful pitch to Arozarena.

He kept the team in the game afterwards, giving up just a solo homer to another unsung star catcher Mike Zunino.

 

But former Astro and Pirate Charlie Morton was on his game and pitched nearly flawlessly.

In this age of the annoying mantra, "Don't dare let a pitcher go through a lineup three times", Morton left with two on and two out in top of sixth after only 66 pitches.  But the Rays bullpen sealed the deal in the 4-2 victory.

 

The odds-makers and TV people love LA and Hollywood and the Dodgers certainly have a lot to prove after winning eight NL West division titles in a row with no World Series wins.

But I'll be rooting for the Rays and their scrappy defense and their "Stable of Horses" in the bullpen who are seemingly interchangeable.  Just hope Randy A. gets more help at bat.

 

Always remember not only "Take it easy but take it!" but also, "The only reason to play baseball is to keep winter away." 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Bobby Thomson Day Will Always Be Special To Men Of A Certain Age + Thoughts on Upcoming "Final Fours" in Both Leagues (updated version)

Way back in the way back of the mid-twentieth century, on Wednesday afternoon October 3, 1951 at 3:58p, New York Giants third baseman Bobby Thomson waited for an 0-1 pitch from Brooklyn Dodger reliever Ralph Branca.

 
"There's a long drive, I think it's gonna be," shouted Russ Hodges on WMCA Radio 570 AM.  And micro-seconds later, Hodges shouted not once but four times: "The Giants win the pennant!"  Over in the WMGM 1050 AM radio booth, Red Barber quietly said, "It's in there for the pennant." 

 
I was only nine years old, but I was listening on my parents' old floor model Crosley radio. It might have been to Barber and not Hodges, but Your Honor, I just don't remember.  

But I do vividly remember telephoning my father at his office with the good news because he was a Giant fan from the days of John McGraw. 

 
My boys had been down 4-1 in the bottom of the ninth and the odds didn't look good for the Polo Grounds nine. Giants owner Horace Stoneham had retreated to the center field clubhouse to greet the lads on a good try after the game.

 

But once Alvin Dark singled to lead off the inning against previously dominant Don Newcombe, ears perked up and hearts began to leap. When my favorite Don "Mandrake the Magician" Mueller singled Dark to third, we had tying run at the plate! True rally in making.

 

Monte Irvin popped out but Whitey Lockman doubled home Dark to cut lead to 4-2.  

 

There is nothing like baseball drama in October.  Don Mueller broke his ankle sliding into third so there was a pause as he was helped off the field.  Clint Hartung, who never lived up to the ballyhoo as The Hondo Hurricane, came in to pinch-run. 

 

Don Newcombe was out and Ralph Branca made the long walk in from the bullpen far away in left field. Coach Clyde Sukeforth is said to have advised manager Chuck Dressen that Carl Erskine had just thrown his vaunted curveball in the dirt and Branca was safer pick. (Though Thomson had homered a few times in the past against Branca.)

 

And on the 0-1 pitch Thomson swung and soon Russ Hodges was shouting, "They're going crazy, they're going crazy."  I've never believed that Thomson knew what pitch was coming.  I heard from a reliable source that a few days before Whitey Lockman died, he made a definitive comment:  "He still had to hit the ball, didn't he?" 

 
It was 69 years old today - the birthday of Hall of Famer Dave Winfield who was born in 1951.  It remains a special moment (with apologies to Brooklyn Dodger fans who were heart- broken but hey you guys won enough pennants - and we were both rooked six years later when the teams left for California.)

 

Once the expanded playoffs came into baseball with wild cards were added for best record without winning a division title, Russ Hodges' dramatic call would have lost a little flair.  It would have gone:  "The Giants Win The Pennant! . . . And The Dodgers Win The Wild Card."

 
Which brings us to October baseball in 2020.  The "final fours" in each league could be very dramatic best of five series.  All will be played in "bubbles" in warm weather sites in Texas or southern California.

 

The pandemic has caused this adjustment, but for decades "warm weather" sites has been a dream of many high-rollers in baseball and television circles. After all, their argument goes, who can afford World Series prices anyway? 

 

Three of the four divisional series could be called grudge matches, especially Yankees versus Tampa Bay Rays who won season series 8-2. With a no-name lineup of seemingly interchangeable pitching and batting parts, the Rays are defiant in their disregard for Yankee "aura and mystique" (to use the phrase of the politically righter-than-right Curt Schllling). 

 

That series will be played in San Diego. If the Dodgers won enough in their last years in Brooklyn, what can be said about the Yankees and their entitlement?  So let's bring those games on, starting Monday night Oct 5 on Fox channels for five consecutive nights if necessary.

 

I must say though I cannot root for Yankees, third baseman Gio Urschela's defensive and offensive performance against his former team Cleveland was truly awesome. It's an overused word these days but certainly true.  He has to have made the people of Colombia very proud.

 

In Los Angeles, the Oakland Athletics hope to get revenge on the Houston Astros who won the World Series in 2017 but were admonished for their high-tech and low-tech sign-stealing escapades. 

 
Dusty Baker has done a helluva job in his first year managing the Astros who everyone likes to hate. Houston players have hardly been repentant for their role in the scandal. 

 

But I can never root against a Baker-led team and so I'll say, "Let the best team win . . . without excess chicanery." 

 
In the NL "final four", the Southern California freeway battle between the Padres and the Dodgers will be played in Arlington, Texas, where the World Series will also be held in the Rangers' brand-new billion-dollar Globe Life Stadium.

 

If San Diego can get back its two starters Clevinger and Lamet that missed the triumph over the Cardinals, it says here that the Padres may have enough hitting to give the Dodgers a run for their money. And their left side of the infield, Manny Machado at third and Fernando Tatis Jr at shortstop, can be spectacular.

 
The Dodgers look exceptionally well-balanced and certainly have a lot to prove after winning 7 NL West titles in a row - now 8 - without a World Series title to show for it. 


The other NL matchup is not exactly chopped liver.  A well-balanced Atlanta Braves team that shut out the Reds twice in the first round faces the 2020 Cinderellas, the Miami Marlins, the "Bottom Feeders" derided by a Phillies broadcaster early in season, now have the last laugh. Philadelphia didn't even make playoffs. They will play in Houston.

 
With the NHL Stanley Cup now in the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the NBA title likely going to LeBron James' LA Lakers, MLB will have the stage to itself n October as it should be.  (I omit from this discussion the NFL and its bowdlerized season.)  

 

In closing, let's clink glasses to three Baseball Hall of Famers who left us in rapid fashion recently:  Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, and Bob Gibson.  

 

And to three lesser lights who etched their names in the Baseball Book of Achievement:  Lou Johnson, Jay Johnstone, and Ron Perranoski.   "There is no wealth but life."

 

That's all for now.  Be well and stay well and as always, take it easy but take it.

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