Monthly Archives: October 2015

World Series Games 2 and 3 recap

I was working on Wednesday night during Game 2, so I apologize that I didn’t do this earlier. Best to combine them together.

Not much to say about Game 2, except for the first World Series complete game by an American League pitcher since Jack Morris in 1991. No home runs were hit, and the Royals cruised to a 7-1 victory to take the lead in the Series, 2-0.

Game 3 was a different story. The Mets, needing to win to avoid going down 0-3, survived a scare in the first two innings. Two home runs in the first three innings and a four-run sixth inning were enough to get New York back in the series. Kansas City now leads, 2-1.

With Chris Young (Kansas City) opposing Steven Matz (New York) in Game 4, the Mets will look to even the series at 2-2. The Mets saw Young in Game 1, who pitched three shutout innings to get the win in relief in the bottom of the fourteenth inning. Having seen Young now, can the Mets push forward and force the series back to Kansas City?

Some interesting tidbits:

1. In each of the last three World Series in which they have participated, the Mets have lost the first two games. They rallied to win 4-3  over the Red Sox in 1986 (the infamous Buckner game) and fell 4-1 to the Yankees in 2000.

2. The last team to go down 0-2 and win the next two games were the 2001 New York Yankees. Incidentally enough, the 2001 World Series and 2015 World Series started on the same date – October 27. Could that be a harbinger of things to come, especially on Halloween night?

3. The 1996 New York Yankees are the last team to win the World Series after losing the first two games. The last team to do it after losing the first two games on the road, like the Mets have done, was the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981, against the Yankees.

4. The most recent team to win Game 3 after going down 0-2 are the 2010 Texas Rangers. All of the other ones since then were either 1-1 in the Series, or ended in a four game sweep.

5. The Royals took a 2-0 lead in the World Series for the first time. Let’s see if they can hold onto this lead.

6. This is the first time since 2010 that the World Series will end in November.

7. It’s been a pretty competitive series so far, with only one run separating the two teams (the Royals have scored fifteen, the Mets fourteen).

Keep an eye out for Games 4 and 5 recaps. I figured it’s easier to do it this way.

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The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame….NBC executives for “The Heidi Game.”

The setup 
On November 17, 1968, the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets were playing in an AFL game, with potential playoff implications on the line. Late in the fourth quarter, Jets placekicker Jim Turner hit what should have been a game-winning field goal, giving the Jets a 32-29 lead. As the game was approaching 7:00 p.m. Eastern time, NBC suddenly cut away from the game to show the television film Heidi, based on the children’s book of the same name. Many furious fans called the NBC switchboards demanding an explanation. To make matters worse, the Raiders scored twice in just over a minute to win 43-32. Early in the broadcast of Heidi, the executives attempted to make up for their mistake by scrolling the score across the bottom of the screen. This led to even more of an uproar from both football viewers and Heidi fans, because of the timing of the film in which they chose to scroll down the score. Ultimately, NBC executives were vilified for cutting away the end of a football game to start a sentimental TV movie, earning this game the nickname of “The Heidi Game.” Here’s why the NBC executives are not to blame.

Best of the Rest 
A. The rivalry 
At the time, the Jets-Raiders rivalry was one of the best in professional football. Many comparisons were drawn with classic NFL rivalries, like the Giants-Eagles and Bears-Packers. Knowing this, NBC had already chosen to cut away from another game (Buffalo Bills vs. San Diego Chargers) to air this game, setting an ironic, if not dangerous, precedent.

B. Blackout policies.
Although the Raiders and Jets weren’t in the NFL yet, with the merger still a few years away, the television rules for airing football games were and still are the strictest of all four pro leagues. Basically, the rule calls for games to be blacked out in surrounding areas if the game is not able to be sold out within seventy-two hours. Parts of California within ninety miles of Oakland had it blacked out because they were not able to meet the criteria set forth by television. As a result, many of the West Coast NBC affiliates weren’t able to broadcast it at all.

Top 5 
5. It was the AFL. 
This was two years before the AFL-NFL merger. At the time, the NFL was still considered king, and the AFL couldn’t get the respect that it deserved. Many football traditionalists held that some of the rules (e.g. the two-point conversion, which is now standard in the NFL) were ridiculous, and didn’t take it seriously. Had it been an NFL game, perhaps the studio executives would have made a different call.

4. Communication breakdowns. 
When the NBC executives realized that the game was going to run long, they tried to contact NBC president Julian Goodman. Goodman seemed to agree to let the game finish, and this led to a conference call with NBC TV president Don Durgin, who agreed to delay showing Heidi until the game was over. As the 7:00 hour approached, Dick Cline, the president of NBC’s nerve center known as Broadcast Operations Control (BOC), called his boss Don “Scotty” Connal, who told Cline to cut away. Part of this was due to a contractual agreement with the Timex Corporation, who wanted to minimize commercials, and refused to bargain with NBC Sports. At around 6:50, Cline tried to communicate with the NBC switchboards, but the line was busy. Goodman and Connal had brokered a deal to cut away, not giving time for Cline to make one last desperate plea. As a result, Cline felt his hands were tied, and cut away from the game. Cline was called in the next morning and told he made the right call, as they would have been in violation of the Timex contract and he would have been fired. As a result of the ensuing backlash, special telephones, known as “Heidi phones,” were installed, allowing for better communication between NBC executives and their higher-ups, and allowing provisions for games to finish, which is now the standard. The game finished at 7:07 p.m., so the time gap was not as great as people anticipated.

3. The post-game publicity. 
In the wake of the disaster, the Raiders and Jets were actually arguing over the game itself. Raiders owner Al Davis complained that Turner’s shoes were illegal, and the Jets had a player ejected earlier in the game. Had it not been for several controversial penalties, the game would have ended on time. Once the game initially ended, the two teams were grumbling at the referee instead of at the television executives. Once they found out about the controversy, it boosted the AFL’s popularity, and even filmed commercials with Jets quarterback Joe Namath making reference to it. Several weeks later, the Raiders and Jets met again in the AFL Championship Game for the right to go to Super Bowl III. The Jets won, 27-23, allowing Namath to make his famous guarantee against the Baltimore Colts. But one could argue that Broadway Joe wouldn’t have had the platform to make that statement without the ensuing media firestorm. In hindsight, it was one of the best things that could have happened to the AFL.

2. Time zones. 
The cutaway only occurred on the East Coast, so although the Jets fans never saw it, the fans that were watching in the Oakland area still saw it. Many in sports complain of an “East Coast bias” in regards to media coverage, but this time, it was the East Coast that got the short end of the stick. Although the game was blacked out in surrounding areas, the Oakland market was still able to watch the game. I think this minimizes the controversy somewhat, because it wasn’t like it was blacked out everywhere.

1. The Raiders rallied. 
The cutaway occurred with 1:01 left in the game. It was reasonable to assume that the Jets were going to hold on, especially considering that the Raiders had barely a minute to even try to tie the game. On the ensuing kickoff, Raiders return man Charlie Smith returned the kick to the Oakland 22-yard line. Quarterback Daryle Lamonica completed a pass to Smith that went for an apparent touchdown, but the play was called back due to an Oakland penalty. Nevertheless, Lamonica persevered, and hit Smith for a gain of twenty yards, which was aided by a 15-yard illegal facemask penalty against the Jets, moving the ball to the Jets’ 43. Lamonica completed another pass to Smith that went for a 43-yard touchdown, giving the Raiders a 36-32 lead, taking only nineteen seconds off the clock. With 0:42 left, the Jets now were set to receive the kickoff, but Jets return man Earl Christy proceeded to fumble the ball, which was recovered by Raiders player Preston Ridlehuber, who returned the fumble for a 12-yard touchdown. George Blanda added the extra point, putting the game out of reach. New York couldn’t do anything in the remaining time it had. So, in the end, the NBC executives had no clue that the Raiders would score twice in thirty seconds. Don’t blame the executives for cutting away – credit the Raiders for coming back and winning the game.

2015 World Series Game 1 recap

Quite an entertaining first game. The last few opening games have been duds, with not a lot of drama. We needed a little bit of a spark to open the World Series.

Some highlights included:

The first inside-the-park home run in the World Series since 1929, and in the first inning, no less.
Technical difficulties leading to the MLB Network feed broadcasting into the sixth inning
A clutch ninth-inning home run, the first game-tying home run that late since Game 5 in 2001.
Kansas City’s Game 4 starter pitching three innings in relief to earn the win, striking out four and allowing only one base runner on a walk
Each team made a crucial error on ground balls that led to runs; in New York’s case, it led to the winning run
Although it’s not the same as a base hit, the winning run comes via sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 14th inning.
In terms of innings, this ties with Game 2 of the 1916 Series and Game 3 of the 2005 Series for the longest game in World Series history, and certainly must be the longest opening game, lasting five hours and nine minutes.

It’s the kind of moments that legendary World Series are made of. I just hope it’s a competitive World Series, and that there can be more games like this, if not necessarily this long. Each team had memorable moments, but ultimately, with the bases loaded and no outs, a sacrifice fly got the winning run home on a play that was closer than many people thought.

So, Kansas City leads, 1-0. The Mets will have a chance to even it up tonight. Given who’s pitching against whom, I think there’s a good chance this can happen, heading back to New York on Thursday for the travel day.

World Series preview

So, it’s Game 1 tonight of the World Series. The Kansas City Royals (AL) vs. the New York Mets (NL). Both teams are looking for their first title in over twenty-five years. The Royals last won in 1985 and the Mets in 1986. It is the first World Series between expansion teams in history. All I’m asking is that it doesn’t end in a sweep, or if it does, to be as competitive as possible.

Keys for the Mets in the Series:

1. Use Matt Harvey effectively.
In the midst of an innings limit controversy, Matt Harvey gets the ball in Game 1 tonight. There are concerns about his arm, but if he can remain healthy, I can see New York stealing Game 1 in Kansas City.

2. Anticipate the layoff. 
The Mets had a layoff of around six days. While it doesn’t always spell disaster, I have seen certain teams (like the 2007 Colorado Rockies, who had eight days off in between the World Series) completely fall apart. The layoff can impact the first two games, and it could be tough for the Mets if they lose the first two games.

3. Remember you still have to play. 
With Terry Collins in his first World Series, and several players injured, the Mets will be carrying a lot of weight on their shoulders. At the same time, they still have to play for themselves. You can’t win games on paper.

Keys for the Royals in the Series:

1. Embrace familiarity.
The Royals made it to the World Series last year, narrowly falling in seven games to the San Francisco Giants. This time, they’re the familiar team. I think the Royals have a lot of talent, but they still shouldn’t underestimate the Mets.

2. Don’t overreact, but be ready for the pitching match-ups.
It may be crucial for the Royals to beat Matt Harvey in Game 1. With Jacob DeGrom going in Game 2, the Mets may be favored to win that game. Earning a split would be nice going to New York.

3. Enjoy the ride. 
It’s been a while since the Royals won a title. For years, they couldn’t make the playoffs or even have a winning season. Now, with them in the World Series for the second straight year, there will be a lot of pressure. However, they just need to enjoy the ride. Let it play out, and see how far it carries them.

Do I have a prediction? I can’t really say. I’d like to see it go at least six games. I lean towards the Royals slightly, based on three factors: experience, less time off, and a bullpen that’s probably a little deeper. That will count at this level.

Let’s hope for a great World Series.

Another top 10 list – underrated films

Here is another top ten list: my films that I think are the most underrated. Many of them were critical successes, but didn’t have the necessary awards season “punch.” And I know that there is more to film than winning awards, obviously, but sometimes even better-than-average films can slip through the cracks, so they aren’t recognized as much on merit as they should be. This is my list of my ten most underrated films. Some of them may have been nominated for Oscars, but not necessarily in the big categories (acting, directing, picture, etc.)

Warning: Spoiler alerts.

10. GoldenEye (1995) 
This wasn’t designed to win any awards. I’m aware of that. But as far as the Bond canon goes, it’s one of the better stories, in my opinion. Even if the characters are a little cartoonish, we can go for that, Boris being an example. What helps is that they got very good actors to play the parts – aside from Pierce Brosnan as Bond, they had Alan Cumming as Boris, Robbie Coltrane as Valentin, Judi Dench in her first appearance as M, and Sean Bean as the main villain Trevelyan. What makes this film interesting to me is that Trevelyan’s character arc is somewhat sympathetic as far as villains go: he was a former 00 agent who defected as a result of bitterness of his parents being unable to cope with being betrayed by MI6. Izabella Scorupco as Natalya is one of my favorite Bond girls, and she is pretty capable of holding her own as Bond’s counterpart, not just his love interest. This is also believed to be the first truly original Bond story, i.e. not adapted from an Ian Fleming novel or unpublished story (Licence to Kill). There’s something about this film that keeps me coming back every time.

9. The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)
Derek Cianfrace, the director of Blue Valentine, did this as his follow-up film. And the setting of Schenectady, New York works pretty well. Ryan Gosling plays a motorcycle stunt man who finds he has a son and begins to rob banks as a means to support him. But the film largely follows Bradley Cooper as a cop who is trying to weed out corruption in his own ranks, and also come to terms with the son that Luke (Gosling) left behind. It was hurt by being released so early in the year, but it’s a well-crafted story and the acting is very good.

8. Eight Men Out (1988) 
I’ve read the book on which this is based; Eliot Asinof’s writing style is a little more hyperbolic than it could or should be, and parts were potentially fabricated. That being said, it’s a shame that more people don’t know John Sayles’ work, and this is his most recognized film. John Cusack, Christopher Lloyd, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn, Michael Lerner and Sayles himself all play significant parts in the film. In addition to getting a lot of the details right (if not all), many of the actors, including Cusack and Sheen, actually were pretty good baseball players. Additionally, being filmed in the old Bush Stadium in Indianapolis was pretty cool, too.

7. Garden State (2004) 
Written, produced, and directed by Zach Braff, this was the beginning of my love with the sentimental comedies that would come through in the next few years. I love how Braff chose all of the music himself, and inserted it into each specific moment in the film. It also features an early cameo from Jim Parsons as the “fast food knight,” or the mascot of a local fast-food restaurant. One of the funniest moments is when he tries to prevent his armor from clanking as he rises from the breakfast table. Including Natalie Portman, Ian Holm, and Peter Sarsgaard was a nice touch.

6. Stand By Me (1986)
Admittedly, this may be one of those “how can you put it on this list?” kind of films. It has endured pretty well, but it still never had the big-name recognition at the time, except for Richard Dreyfuss. But the thing is, it actually works for this film. Most of the kids in the film became stars in their own right, and you almost forget that it’s a Stephen King story that’s being adapted as well. And of course, it’s another film on this list with John Cusack in it. I also believe it was the first film to be given an R rating solely on the basis of language, with most of it coming from kids. Still, there is a quaint quality to this film that I can’t help but love.

5. Away We Go (2009)
John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph play the two leads, a married couple with a child on the way, looking for the perfect place to raise their child. Along the way, they encounter several friends and confidantes, all looking to convince them to stay there. However, many of them have issues or eccentricities that make Burt and Verona feel uncomfortable. But one of my favorite moments is when they declare that no matter what, they will do their best as parents. What makes this scene amazing is that it takes place in an unexpected location – in this case, stargazing on a trampoline at Burt’s brother’s house; the brother is going through a tough divorce, and can’t explain it to his own daughter. While this is going on, Alexi Murdoch’s “All My Days” plays under it, which is a perfect song for the scene. Also lost in the film is the fact that it was directed by Sam Mendes – I like how he’s trying to go in a different direction from many of his previous films. The two characters may come across as paradigms of virtue, but given the people that they interact with, it’s hard to argue against it.

4. Scream (1996) 
In hindsight, it doesn’t hold up as well as it used to do in recent years. But there was something innovative about it, with the big reveal being that there can be more than one person committing the crimes. Also, the motivations for why they do it, at least for one of them, is somewhat more frightening because you find yourself sympathizing with them to a certain degree. Additionally, I love how it feels like a “meta-horror” film, being very self-referential in terms of horror movie cliches and either working them in well or re-working them to make it creative. It was Neve Campbell’s breakout role, and I love the way that they advertised it being around Drew Barrymore, only to have her killed before the opening credits roll. I draw parallels with Janet Leigh in Psycho as far as that goes. From a horror film standpoint, it can be gory, but still have a little bit of intelligence to it. The sequels were probably overkill, but the first one definitely broke some new ground in the horror genre.

3. In Bruges (2008) 
Yes, you know why I put this film on this list (wink-wink.) But aside from that, it’s another film where the scenery is its own character. Bruges is a very ethereal city, especially at night, and director Martin McDonagh works it in beautifully. There’s  a great running joke about Colin Farrell’s character Ray disparaging everything about the location, and his impulsiveness and naivete being his keys to redemption. It’s a violent film, but sometimes you are able to focus more on the characters. When Brendan Gleeson’s character Ken goes to the belfry in his final moments, it’s another great example of how a certain song underscores a scene so well. In this case, it’s “On Raglan Road” in one of Bruges’ most famous landmarks. It’s such a poignant scene, especially for somebody who works in a position that he does (i.e. a hit man). There’s not much else to describe here.

2. Inside Man (2006) 
Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Clive Owen are in it, and that’s enough for me. It’s actually my favorite Spike Lee film as well. As robber Dalton Russell, Owen is cunning, masterful, and in the end, pretty much does commit the perfect crime. But I love how he is a robber, but what he robs is nothing physical. Instead, what he robs is a man’s dignity and reputation as an honorable man (played by Christopher Plummer, whose character is the owner of the bank). He only takes one thing, and ends up slipping it to Detective Frazier at the end. He not only doesn’t plan to get caught, he doesn’t expect to get away with the loot. The riddle that Russell gives to Frazier and his team is brilliantly crafted, and he and his cadre of fellow robbers construct it so nobody is harmed, and yet still manipulate everything to make it look like they’re in total control. It’s a heist film, but the twist is not who did it, but how they did it. I love films like that.

1. Burn After Reading (2008) 
This has to be tops on this list. Even for the Coen brothers, it’s arguably one of their best films. It’s the perfect example of what I call the “inept victim” theory – that is, the criminals fail because the victims are even dumber than they are. The Coen brothers are masters of this. The ending scene is so brilliantly written and acted, particularly by J.K. Simmons. In a nutshell, the story goes like this: CIA agent Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) is being phased out of his job, so he decides to retire. His wife, who is having an affair, decides to divorce him. Cox decides to write a memoir (or, as he puts it in his faux-posh accent, a “mem-wah.”) of his experiences. Of course, most of it is just rambling and settling vendettas against the “morons” that have wronged him in his life. The joke comes from the fact that Cox is often the one doing moronic things; an example is a scene where, having been reduced to living on a houseboat, he is unable to access his bank information because he considers it beneath him to memorize the numbers to his savings account (and of course calls the other person on the phone a “moron” in return). George Clooney is hilarious as a philandering government official who is drawn into the story through his affair with Linda (Frances McDormand), and who is being followed by a process server, because his wife is also having an affair and wishes to serve him divorce papers. Linda and Chad’s arc is probably the funniest. They both work in a gym, and an employee of a law firm leaves behind the CD on which Cox’s writing is stored. Because of Cox’s CIA connections, most of it is encrypted, and Linda intends to blackmail Cox with it, solely to get money to pay for cosmetic surgery. Brad Pitt’s character Chad is there for the ride, although he hilariously fails to blackmail Cox – he tries to use big words to appear smarter than he is, but he can’t quite get the syntax right (“Appearances can be deceptive.”) Without giving too much away, the final scene sums up perfectly the whole motif of the movie, and how random life can sometimes be. This is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, and certainly the most underrated.

MLB postseason updates

The Toronto Blue Jays, down 2-0 in games, rallied to win 11-8 and get back in the series, 2-1. They have guaranteed themselves at least one more home game this year, forcing a Game 5 tomorrow afternoon. This is the second time the Blue Jays and Royals have met in the postseason. The first time, the Royals rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the series; the home team won the first two games, then the other team won the third game. This has been the script so far. Will we see an interesting repeat of history this year? Chris Young goes for Kansas City against R.A. Dickey for Toronto. Dickey, a former Cy Young award winner with the Mets in 2012, made his postseason debut at the age of 40 earlier in the postseason. He ended up getting a no-decision in Game 4 of the ALDS, with David Price getting the win in relief (Toronto won by a score of 8-4). Chris Young played in the postseason about a decade ago with San Diego, and made the All-Star team in 2007. I think this one favors Dickey; although he’s older, being a knuckleball pitcher will help as it puts less strain on his arm. I see the Blue Jays rallying to win at least one more game at home, and perhaps two.

In the NLCS, the New York Mets won the first two games over the Chicago Cubs, and are leading in games, 2-0. With the series shifting back to Wrigley Field, the Cubs really have to win at least Game 3, not just to get back into the series, but because the pitching matchups don’t favor them otherwise. Kyle Hendricks has a lot of pressure on his shoulders, and with New York hitting the way they’re hitting, the Cubs really need to win Game 3. If this happens, this means that they can at least give the ball back to Jon Lester for Game 5. If it doesn’t happen, it could be a very short series. Jake Arrieta, who led the majors in wins this year, has struggled in his last two postseason starts, and unless he’s willing to come back on short rest, would only be available for Game 6. I had a feeling that people would underestimate the Mets coming into this series, having won “only” 90 games, but they have some postseason experience of their own, with several veterans with postseason experience, and David Wright making his return to the postseason after nine years. If the Cubs can win Game 3, all that is guaranteed is that they get a Game 5.

I never make guarantees. But there are two guarantees this year:

1. The team that wins will wear blue as a primary color.
2. It will be a first time postseason matchup in the World Series.

Game 4 of the ALCS and Game 3 of the NLCS happen tonight.

UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying updates – October 2015

So, 20 of the 24 spots in UEFA Euro 2016 have been secured, with eight teams now vying for a playoff.

Qualified teams (as of October 19, 2015), and they are listed in order that qualification was secured:

1. France (host) – 9th appearance
2. England – 9th appearance
3. Czech Republic – 9th appearance
4. Iceland – debut appearance
5. Austria – 2nd appearance
6. Northern Ireland – debut appearance
7. Portugal – 7th appearance
8. Spain – 10th appearance
9. Switzerland – 4th appearance
10. Italy – 9th appearance
11. Belgium – 5th appearance
12. Wales – debut appearance
13. Romania – 5th appearance
14. Albania – debut appearance
15. Germany – 12th appearance
16. Poland – 3rd appearance
17. Russia – 11th appearance
18. Slovakia – debut appearance
19. Croatia – 5th appearance
20. Turkey – 4th appearance*

*Turkey qualified as the best ranked third place team.

Playoffs (my teams predicted to advance are in bold):

Ukraine vs. Slovenia
Sweden vs. Denmark
Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Ireland
Norway vs. Hungary 

Those qualifying matches will take place on November 14 and November 17. I won’t predict the draw, because I have no idea who will be seeded where. That’ll be for later. Good luck to all teams in the playoffs, and congratulations to those who have made the final tournament so far.

Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame…Fred Snodgrass

The setup 
In the bottom of the tenth of the final game of the 1912 World Series, the New York Giants led the Boston Red Sox 2-1. They were three outs away from winning the World Series. Pinch-hitter Clyde Engle pinch-hit for Smoky Joe Wood and hit a lazy fly ball. Center fielder Fred Snodgrass camped under it, but dropped the ball. Engle ended up at second. The Red Sox rallied to tie the game at two, and two batters later, a sacrifice fly scored the winning run. Snodgrass was blamed for losing the World Series for the rest of his life; it even mentioned this event in his obituary, after he became a successful businessman following his career.

Here is why Fred Snodgrass is not to blame.

Best of the Rest 

A. Fred Merkle
This is for two reasons – we all know about his own famous gaffe in 1908, but he also couldn’t get over to cover Tris Speaker’s foul pop-up later in the inning. Confusion led to nobody calling for it, and the ball fell in untouched. Speaker ended up hitting the RBI double to tie the game.

B. Sloppy fielding. 
The entire series was marred by sloppy fielding on both teams. The Giants made sixteen errors in the World Series, the Red Sox twelve. It’s likely that those extra errors cost the Giants more games, as they outscored the Red Sox 31-25 and outhit them, 74-60. Snodgrass didn’t cost the Giants the series by himself.

Top 5 

5. Snodgrass redeemed himself.
On the very next play, Harry Hooper hit another fly ball in Snodgrass’ direction. This was a little tougher than the first one. This time, Snodgrass made a spectacular catch to rob Hooper of a hit, although Engle advanced to third. Still, people only remember Snodgrass for the first play, forgetting that he made the play on a tougher hit ball on the next play.

4. Harry Hooper. 
Snodgrass’ counterpart in center field for Boston made two spectacular catches of his own, denying the Giants of at least three runs. It went into extra innings tied 1-1, but Snodgrass wouldn’t have had to make his blunder had Hooper not held on the ball both times.

3. Fenway Park. 
Given the eighty-five year drought that happened to the Red Sox, it’s easy to forget that Fenway was considered a good luck charm for much of its early existence. Due to unforeseen circumstances (which will be addressed in reason #2), Boston earned the right to host the final game. Although their most loyal fans boycotted the game and the game was played to half-capacity, and the Red Sox made four errors in the game, they managed to win in front of their home fans.

2. The Game 2 controversies.
Game 2 was one of the most controversial World Series games in history. Tied at 5-5 going into extra innings, New York scored a run in the top of the tenth inning. Tris Speaker led off the bottom of the tenth against Christy Mathewson, and got a deep base hit. Buck Herzog, playing third base for the Giants, purposely collided with Speaker to keep him from scoring on an inside-the-park home run, but Speaker tried for home anyway. Catcher Art Wilson dropped the relay throw, so it was 6-6. The Giants appealed that Speaker had missed first base, but this appeal was denied. Duffy Lewis followed with a double, but Mathewson snuffed out the rally. Neither team scored in the eleventh, which was then called on account of darkness. The Red Sox retained their 1-0 lead in games at the time, but the National Commission, the predecessor to the commissioner’s office, ruled that the share of the gate receipts would not be awarded for this game. Rumors abounded that some of the subsequent games were thrown, and so the final game was technically Game 8. Boston won a coin flip for the right to host this game, which set up the fateful tenth inning. In other words, Snodgrass’ error never should have happened, because they should have found a way to resolve Game 2.

1. Christy Mathewson. 
New York’s 373-game winner fell apart in the tenth inning at the absolute worst time. After Engle moved up to third, Mathewson, who was known for having reliable control, walked Steve Yerkes. This set up the Speaker at-bat. On Speaker’s foul popup, Merkle went for it but couldn’t get it because Mathewson called Merkle off of the ball. As a result, nobody got it and Speaker got another chance. Speaker followed with a double, tying the game and putting runners at second and third. Mathewson was forced to walk Lewis intentionally to set up Larry Gardner’s Series winning sacrifice fly. Mathewson’s sudden control problem and his confusion on the pop-up abandoned the Giants in the Series, and he was also credited with the loss in Game 5. Had Mathewson not fallen apart in the tenth, Snodgrass probably would have been remembered as a world champion.

Texas vs. Toronto – the seventh inning of Game 5

I’ve been a baseball fan for as far back as I can remember. Being a Red Sox fan, trust me, I’ve seen a lot. They would lose in the flukiest ways possible, which was what made the 85 years of not winning more painful. It would be easier if they never got there at all. But not even the Red Sox (or even the Cubs) could lose like this. A message board for the Texas Rangers calls them the “weirdest baseball team” ever. I thought I had seen it all in baseball, but I’ve never seen something like what happened in the seventh inning of tonight’s deciding game between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays.

Only in baseball can you see something like this. And I mean that endearingly. There are fewer “obscure” rules in other sports, but you see something new in the playoffs on a baseball diamond. Here’s what happened, in the best way of explaining it as possible.

In the seventh inning of Game 5 in the Rogers Centre in Toronto, new pitcher Aaron Sanchez came in for starter Marcus Stroman. Rougned Odor led off with a single, followed by a sacrifice bunt and a groundout. It started so simply, as they often do. Then things got weird. With Shin-Soo Choo batting, Sanchez threw a pitch a little high. Catcher Russell Martin started to throw the ball back. The ball ricocheted off of Choo’s bat and spun toward third base. The basic effect of the rule is that it deflects off of an obstruction (no matter what it was), and was not done intentionally, the ball is live and runners can advance at their own risk. Odor ran home while home plate umpire Dale Scott originally called the ball dead. He called the other umpires over, eventually ruling that the ball was live and Odor scored legally. Many Blue Jays fans littered the field as a result. The play is not subject to review, but a review was called anyway when Toronto manager John Gibbons attempted to protest the game. In other words, they were reviewing whether he had the right to protest. During the confusion, pitcher Mark Buehrle was ejected for arguing the call too passionately. The play was divisive, with the biggest question being whether Choo’s act was intentional. From what it looked like, they got the call right, but who can really tell? Choo ended the at-bat and inning by striking out.

In the bottom of the seventh, with Toronto down by a run, Martin led off, hoping to redeem himself. He hit a ground ball to short, which was bobbled by Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus. Kevin Pillar came up, and hit a potential double-play ball to first baseman Mitch Moreland. Moreland made a poor throw, and Andrus bobbled it, so both runners were safe. Moreland was officially charged with the error, but Andrus should have done better. Ryan Goins was asked to bunt, and laid a poor bunt down. Adrian Beltre at third base charged and flipped to Andrus – who dropped the ball again. Three at-bats, three straight errors. This Rangers team had only made two errors in the first four games combined. They should have been out of the inning, but instead the Blue Jays had the bases loaded with nobody out. After a force out and a pitching change, Josh Donaldson hit a line drive that Odor misplayed. He recovered in time to get Ben Revere out at second, but Pillar came around to score the tying run. The umpires ruled it was a ground ball, but it looked like it was high enough to constitute the infield fly rule. And the criteria for the infield fly rule was met, but there was no call. I’m not sure about that one, but I won’t comment any further. With two out and a 3-3 score, Jose Bautista followed with a three-run home run to give the Blue Jays a 6-3 lead. Bautista flipped his bat, considered disrespectful, and the benches cleared. After two more singles, Troy Tulowitzki popped out to end the inning. This led to a confrontation between Tulowitzki and pitcher Sam Dyson. The benches cleared for a second time. Calmer heads prevailed, and the Blue Jays went out for their defensive positions in the 8th inning. All in all, the inning took fifty-three minutes to complete, and the manner in which the runs were scored are almost impossible.

The rest of the game was uneventful, save for more ejections in the eighth. Toronto reliever Roberto Osuna earned a five-out save, striking out Will Venable to end the game. Toronto became the third team in the Division Series to win a series after losing the first two games at home, joining the 2001 Yankees and the 2012 Giants. The Blue Jays move on to play the Kansas City Royals, who also navigated a fifth game at home, winning over Houston 7-2 to win their ALDS, with much less controversy. For Texas, losing a 2-0 series lead hurts, with many comparing it to Game Six of the 2011 World Series. I’ll tell you something – I think Texas has a history of being snakebitten. I think I finally see what they’re talking about.

There’s a baseball saying that I think applies here: only in October.

Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame…Curse of the Billy Goat

So, with the Cubs winning the NLDS last night, they have won their first postseason series in twelve years and only the second since 1908, and clinched a postseason series at home for the first time in their history. They still have to win eight more games to win the World Series, but considering who’s playing, it may not be so impossible. Many blame the Curse of the Billy Goat for why they haven’t won since 1908, but here’s why the Curse is not to blame.

Best of the Rest

A. Expansion
Part of what has hurt the Cubs is that there are more teams to play. Perhaps the law of averages would have caught up to them earlier otherwise.

B. The Hitless Wonders 
The 1906 Chicago White Sox may have started it all. The Cubs won 116 games that year, but were upset in the Series, 4-2, by a team that collectively hit .230 for the season. The so-called “Curse of the Billy Goat” only goes back to 1945. How do you explain the other Series losses?

Top 5 

5. Superior opponents.
When you look at some of the teams that the Cubs either did play or would have played in the World Series, it’s unlikely that they would have won anyway. As an example, let’s take a look at the two NL East titles they won in the 1980s. Those years are 1984 and 1989. If you look at the American League representatives, they were probably the best team in the league that year. The 1984 Detroit Tigers went 104-58, starting the season 35-5, tying a record by winning seventeen consecutive road games. I’m sorry, but nobody was beating the Tigers that year. The same thing with the 1989 Oakland A’s – 99-63, with Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Dennis Eckersley, and one of the most dominant teams in history. Historically, other teams, like the 1929 A’s, 1932 Yankees, 1938 Yankees, and 1998 Braves were just better.

4. The front office.
Phil Wrigley was a good businessman, I’m sure. But how much baseball acumen did he actually have? He made a series of blunders – trading away players, swapping minor league franchises, instituting the College of Coaches, etc. Bill Veeck, known more for his gimmicks than his baseball, was responsible for the ivy being planted. And the Tribune Company had some tough years after Wrigley, stubbornly holding onto tradition, often at the Cubs’ expense.

3. Bad managers. 
Where to get started? Too many horrible managers have passed through the north side of Chicago. Granted, every team has a horrible manager in their history, but when you look at some of the ones that the Cubs have had – Don Baylor, Lee Elia, Mike Quade, and many more – it’s understandable why they haven’t had more success. Even when the managers were good, they couldn’t get the job done. Leo Durocher went AWOL on them during the ’69 season, Dusty Baker overworked his starting rotation, and Lou Piniella was past his prime. The worst probably was Lou Boudreau in 1960 – it set up the ill-fated College of Coaches.

2. Their farm system was forgotten. 
One of the reasons why the Cubs went thirty-nine years in between playoff appearances was due to an inadequate minor league system. This was especially true in the 1950s and 1960s, when baseball underwent dynamically rapid changes – westward relocation, expansion, an extra round of playoffs, etc. It makes me wonder what would have happened if the minor league system had been better historically.

And the number one reason why you can’t blame the Curse of the Billy Goat (forgive me, Chicago) is….

1. Unfriendly Confines. 
I’ve been to Wrigley Field. It’s a beautiful park. But just because it’s beautiful to look at doesn’t mean it’s a good baseball park. And it’s not even the park itself. It’s down to geography. The unpredictable wind patterns from Lake Michigan hurt the park, and as a result, the Cubs. Other teams never won a championship because they didn’t play in good ballparks – Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Candlestick Park in San Francisco, etc. Around 2002 or 2003, the Red Sox began renovating Fenway Park, and since then, have won three World Series in ten years, including their first one within two years of the renovations. After the Giants moved into AT&T Park, they played in the World Series within two years, and won three titles within fifteen. Although Cleveland lost two World Series, they played twice in the 1990s, not even five years after Jacobs Field opened (now called Progressive Field). I’m not saying that the Cubs need a new park. But it’s all about location, location, location. Not counting this year’s postseason, the Cubs had played twenty-seven games at Wrigley Field. Their record was 7-20 with a run differential of -43. In the World Series (1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, 1945), their record is 2-11. Consider that Wrigley Field didn’t have lights for almost seventy-five years. Had they not installed the lights in 1988, Major League Baseball would have forced them to play their World Series games in other ballparks, like Busch Stadium in St. Louis. It’s not that surprising to me that when the Cubs clinch a series at home for the first time (this year’s NLDS), it comes when the park is undergoing renovations. I think the park is culpable to a certain degree, or at least where the park is located.

I don’t hate the Cubs. I really don’t. I hope they can win the World Series, and I’d love it as a fan of baseball if they could. But I don’t think it’s down to a goat why the Cubs have never won a World Series. If Cubs fans do read this, congratulations on making the NLCS. As a Red Sox fan, I know what it’s like. I hope you can win it, if not this year, then soon. But I do think this is worth reading.