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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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Three Cheers for Justin Verlander's Third No-Hitter, Two Boos for His Recent Boorish Behavior

There is no doubt that the Houston Astros ace pitcher Justin Verlander is one of the great moundsmen of our era.  He proved it again on the first afternoon of September by no-hitting the Toronto Blue Jays, 2-0, in a dramatic game at Toronto in which the only runs were scored on a two-run ninth-inning homer by the rarely used first baseman  Abraham Toro. 


Verlander was exuberant after the game as well he should have been.  His second no-hitter was also pitched at Toronto in 2011 when he was still a member of the Detroit Tigers.  In a post-game on-field interview he said he was glad that his former Tigers teammate Don Kelly, now the Astros first base coach, could be there.


Unfortunately, to me some of the glow of Verlander becoming only the sixth pitcher in MLB history to throw three no-hitters is dimmed because he has recently acted very boorishly.  When the Tigers in a rare 2019 victory beat him on a ninth-inning home run, JV threw a Trumpian fit after the game.  He wanted Detroit beat writer Anthony Fenech thrown out of the clubhouse.  Evidently he didn't like something Fenech had written. 


In a subsequent start, JV got thrown out of the game by the plate umpire for profanity.  He thought the ump had missed a call on a pitch. When his next pitch got ripped for a double into an outfield gap, he blew his stack at the ump.  The score at the time was 9-0 Houston. 



I thought Verlander understood some of the basics of how to behave on the field. I have a pleasant memory of a Memorial Day at Yankee Stadium a couple of seasons ago when JV tipped his cap to booing Yankee fans after he shut down the Yanks down for almost seven innings.  


I also remember vividly after Verlander got knocked out of a playoff game in Baltimore in 2014 - the last season that the Orioles seemed a legitimate contender - someone in the crowd held up a big sign:  KATE UPTON IS HOT; VERLANDER IS NOT.  (For those not in the celebrity sports cycle, supermodel Upton is now the wife of JV.)  


I have never bought the line that athletes should be "role models".  At best they should be seen as "craft models" that work their butts to attain excellence.  The great ones sustain excellence by continuing to work their butts off. 


Yet since athletes are more than ever constantly present in the public eye, there should be a code of minimally decent behavior.  I sure hope JV doesn't sink below this standard again.  


At a much more tragic level, it is now clear what I had long suspected.  An autopsy of the late Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, 27, found dead in a Texas hotel in early July has shown that he died of a fatal combination of alcohol, opioids, and fentanyl, a drug of a far greater potency than heroin.  


I think of all the players who wore Skaggs' #45 on their caps and uniforms.  Ditto the gesture of players three years ago, displaying the #16 of the late Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez who died in a Miami boating accident that took the lives of two of his friends.


Please, players and fans.  Think of your departed heroes as craft models not role models. And never forget:  "There is no wealth but life." 


Back next time with I hope less tragedy on the agenda, and a look at the playoff scrums in both leagues with the Yankees and Dodgers clearly pennant favorites but hardly shoo-ins.



Always remember:  Take it easy but take it.  

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