"The only problem with baseball is that someone must lose every day," a veteran baseball scout once wisely noted. I definitely wanted the Braves to knock out the heavily favored haughty Dodgers in the NLCS, and was happy for Dusty Baker that the Astros eliminated the Bosox.
With the glamor teams gone, I now face a quandary. I guess I'll root for six or seven games and may the games be as memorable as a lot of the NLCS and ALCS were.
Both series went six games and each contained plenty of wonderful unpredictable baseball drama. It looked like the loss of Houston's number one starter Lance McCullers Jr. would doom the Astros and they did fall behind Boston's explosive offense two games to one.
Then, their unheralded young starters, Dominican Republic native Framber Valdez and Venezuelan Luis Garcia, flushed from their memory ineffective performances in the first games in Houston and stepped up big time in the unfriendly confines of Fenway Park.
All of a sudden Boston's bats went silent including that of the amazing ex-Dodger Enrique "Kike" Hernandez.
Valdez and Garcia were obviously given confidence boosters by manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Brent Strom, two baseball lifers in their early 'seventies. How can any longtime baseball fans not like these guys? And what better leaders to guide the team after the sign-stealing scandal of 2017 that wasn't uncovered until two years later.
Strom came up with the Mets but never won a game for them. He went 22-39 in his MLB career, pitching mainly for his home town San Diego Padres. In 1978 he became the second pitcher to undergo Tommy John elbow surgery but he never returned to the majors.
He has since become a widely-respected coach. This year he has been working wonders with a largely farm-developed staff along with some trade additions like closer Ryan Pressly and set-up man Kendall Graveman.
Manager Dusty Baker, born Johnnie Baker Jr, is closing in on almost 2,000 regular season victories. He has taken five teams to the post-season but this will be only Baker's second World Series adventure as a manager.
A master story teller, Baker recently told AP sportswriter Kristie Rieken that after losing as Giants skipper the hard-fought 2002 7-game World Series to the Angels. Baker's father groused to him that he would never have another chance at a Series win.
Johnnie Baker Sr. was a career military man and a practitioner of tough love. He coached his son in Little League as well as Bobby Bonds, Barry's father. Baker Sr. died a few years ago but Dusty feels he is looking down over him.
So is Henry Aaron who was Baker's mentor when Dusty signed with the Braves in 1967 and reached the majors to stay in 1972. Aaron promised Dusty's mother he would look over her son and he certainly did.
In addition to Brent Strom. the Astros possess other fine coaches. Joe Espada, Joe Girardi's bench coach with the Yankees, has the same role in Houston.
Former fine center fielder Gary Pettis just came back to the team after extensive treatments for myeloma. He's not ready to return to his third base post, but he will be a presence in the dugout.
Gary's son, Dante Pettis, plays for the New York football Giants and threw and caught a pass from Giant QB Daniel Jones this past Sunday in what turned out to be a rare easy victory for the 2-5 Giants over the Carolina Panthers.
I love these connections in sports. One of the Astros' hitting coaches is Troy Snitker, 32, the son of Braves manager Brian Snitker. Brian, 66, is another baseball lifer who is impossible to dislike. He was hired by Hank Aaron when the Hammer was the Braves farm director.
Snitker's base coaches, Ron Washington, 73, and Eric Young Sr. (the former Rutgers and Dodgers infielder-outfielder), are brimming with passion for teaching the game.
The NY Times reporter Scott Miller wrote a wonderful story over the weekend about Washington's teaching infield fundamentals via pepper, the oft-forgotten drill that keeps players on their toes by having someone batting balls to them as they gather closely together in a circle.
It is hard to recall two better collections of infielders than the ones we will see in this Series. The Astros feature at the corners Alex Bregman and Cuban Yuri Gurriel, the NL batting champion. The double-play combo is Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve.
The Braves have two MVP candidates at the corners, young Austin Riley at third and Freddie Freeman at first. Dansby Swanson at short and Curacao native Ozzie Albies are superlative at their positions, and all eight of them can really hit, too.
There was a touching moment before Game 1 of the NLCS when Atlanta's former star center fielder Dale Murphy went to the mound to throw out the first ball. Arriving wearing his #3 jersey, he suddenly took it off to reveal underneath the late Henry Aaron's #44. And beneath that, he displayed Austin Riley's #27.
One important question about the coming World Series will be: Can Houston's Yordan Alvarez, another Cuban who was signed as a teenager by the Dodgers, and Atlanta's Eddie Rosario from Puerto Rico keep up their fantastic hitting? Both hit over .500 in the previous series and were rightly named MVPs.
Another interesting side story is how will LSU's Alex Bregman, a shortstop in college, fare against Vanderbilt's Dansby Swanson. They went 1-2 in the 2015 amateur draft and Bregman wears #2 as a motivator because Swanson was the number one pick in the country.
I hope the starting pitchers carry good enough stuff to go at least into the
sixth or seventh innings. Series opener Charlie Morton and the youngsters Max Fried and Ian Anderson may be capable of doing it. Ditto Houston's Valdez and Garcia.
It will be intriguing to see if Will Smith the Braves' lefthanded closer who excelled against
LA can keep up his good work against Houston. He is known to get into jams.
Can the other lefties in the bullpen, AJ Minter and Tyler Matzek, keep up their fine work?
It is not just 20/20 hindsight to say that LA lost the NLCS when they made the odd choice of calling on Mexican Julio Urias, baseball's only 20-game winner in 2021, to try to save Game 1 in Atlanta. He hadn't pitched in relief all season and he couldn't hold the lead.
Max Scherzer, the trade deadline acquisition and likely future Hall of Famer, never fully recovered from his saving the game that eliminated the surprising Giants in the earlier divisional series. He made only one start in the NLCS and couldn't answer the bell for Game 6.
Kudos to Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, a onetime LA Dodger, who in the pre-game show on TBS before Game 6 expressed his fervent wish that the Dodgers' analytics department will have to answer to their strange decisions on turning starters into closers and turning over entire crucial games to "openers" and "bulk relievers".
I just hope we see memorable baseball in the climactic week of the season. If there are no rain postponements, the Series will shift to Atlanta for the three weekend games after an off day on Thursday. If games 6 and 7 are needed in Houston, they will be on Election Day Tuesday and Wed Nov 3. All games starting after 8p EDT.
I will grit my teeth and try to blot out the political grandstanding that already is happening in the state of Georgia and probably soon in flamingly red state Texas.
Before the final game against the Dodgers, the Braves hired country singer Travis Tritt to sing the National Anthem despite his outspoken opposition to vaccine mandates.
It must have been a deliberate slap by Braves management of baseball commissioner Rob Manfred who had ordered the All-Star Game out of Atlanta because of Georgia's passage of voter restriction laws. Manfred has also demanded strict enforcement of Covid protocols since the virus broke out.
All the games will be on Fox TV which means there will a lot of superficial comment from Joe Buck, forced laughter from the pre-game trio of David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, and Frank Thomas, and only an occasional insight from Buck's sidekick John Smoltz.
And now here is one closing baseball quote. Daisuke Matsusaka, 41, the former Red Sox pitcher, retired last week, pitching one inning in a planned goodbye in his native Japan. In his farewell statement, Dice-K wrote, "I want to thank my wife, my kids, my parents, everyone who was part of my life, even opposing fans who hated me."
That's all for now. Next time some more as the NYC cultural scene comes back to life with live performances. In the meantime, always remember: Take it easy but take it, and
Stay Positive, Test Negative!