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!