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  • World Series: Game 6 Observations

    With less than two hours to go before the all-important game 7 of the World Series, here are some observations and stats from the all-too-wild game 6:

    1. Well, my Astros in 6 prediction went bust. And I’m not displeased, although that may be the sleep deprivation talking.

    2. Last night’s bartender (there have been quite a few during this postseason) complained that he can’t get “Baby Shark” out of his head no matter how hard he tries. My guaranteed antidote (though not necessarily a better choice): the 1-877-Kars for Kids jingle.

    3. I’d like to thank the sportswriters of America for joining me in dubbing this series “weird.”

    4. The best example of how strange this series is: It is the first time in 1,420 best-of-seven postseason series across MLB, NBA and NHL in which the road team has won each of the first six contests. (And Houston had an unbelievable 65-22 home record through the regular season and two rounds prior to the start of this series.)

    5. Examples of Game 6 weirdness: The first base interference call on Turner in the 7th; Alex Bregman and Juan Soto suddenly becoming their own bat boys; Verlander remains winless in World Series starts. And those are just the things you know about.

    6. Stephen Strasburg tied six other pitchers with his fifth win in the postseason. Max Scherzer can join the list if he wins tonight. Strasburg also is the first starter to go 5-0 in a single postseason.

    7. Soto’s three World Series home runs are the most by a player at age 21 or younger in a single World Series.

    8. Leading into game 7, the Astros have 28 runs in the series to the Nationals’ 27, even though the only one-run game was the first one. This is only the third time teams were separated by one or no runs entering game 7 since 1967.

    9. Zach Greinke and Scherzer are the first pair of Cy Young winners to face off in a game 7 in World Series history.

    10. The last time the World Series went to a Game 7, the Astros beat the Dodgers in L.A. Now they’re trying to avoid a similar fate on their home turf.

    “Play ball,” he shouts while yawning.

  • Bucket List Weekend

    There'a reason I call this past Friday to Sunday a "bucket list weekend."

    On Friday, Jill and I went to Nashville to see Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit at the Ryman Auditorium, a holy cathedral of live music featuring one of our favorite artists. Before our flight left, we had a chance to see Emma, who came down from New York to attend game 3 of the World Series.

    After flying back Saturday, I attended my first-ever World Series games between my two favorite teams with  Jill and my friend/brother from another mother Eric Kleppinger. Then, on Sunday morning between the two games, Kate, Matthew, and I met Nicholas and the Croxons at the end of the Marine Corps Marathon to cheer on Conner, who finished the 26.2 mile race in 4 hours and 11 minutes, averaging less than 10 minutes per mile.

    One concert, two baseball games, three adult child sightings = 72 hours I'll never forget. #gratitude #weareTHATfamily

  • World Series: Game 5 Observations

    World Series game 5 observations:

    1, The weekend comes down to this: The Nationals haven’t won a World Series home game since Oct. 5, 1933.

    2. Not sure if it was the after effect of the waterlogged Marine Corps marathon, but this was a weird night even by D.C. standards. You know it’s weird when the president gets booed by a majority of the masses (with chants of “Lock him up” for good measure) and people shrug their shoulders afterward. An elderly woman sitting next to us said it was the best thing she’d seen all night.

    3. Additional oddities: A rainy monsoon-type morning turned into a beautiful evening, with temperatures in the 70s at game time; Scherzer was scratched two hours before due to spasms; two women flash Gerritt Cole in a publicity stunt and are “indefinitely” banned from all MLB games; calls for robo umpires are rampant following several missed calls at the plate; and the visiting team has now won all five games in the Series.

    4. Credit to the Nationals and the Secret Service: The lines moved well going into the stadium. Getting in took only a couple of minutes longer than it did the night before.

    5. You have to feel bad for Joe Ross, who was thrown into a starting role with Scherzer’s injury and was victimized by one of those bad calls. He then gave up a two-run homer and turned it over to the bullpen down 4-0.

    6. By now, everyone should know the odds of a Nationals reliever getting three outs in the middle innings are the same as containing a bull in a pen made of cardboard.

    7. The Astros fans travel well. I saw a number of shirts and hats at the marathon, and there was a considerable amount of orange in the stadium Sunday night. Their loyalty was rewarded.

    8. Cole looked like the pitcher who entered the game with 363 regular and postseason strikeouts, but it can’t be discounted that the Nationals played with fungo bats throughout the three-game homestand.

    9. I’m so glad it’s a travel day — for them, not me.

    10. Game 6: Strasberg vs. Verlander, who remarkably has never won a World Series start. Will my Astros in 6 prediction — seemingly unrealistic when the weekend started —hold up?

  • World Series: Games 3 & 4 Observations

    Observations about World Series games 3 and 4 (with a few travel side roads added for good measure):

    1. Due to our bucket list, 23-hour trip to Nashville, we did not attend game 3, the first World Series contest hosted in Washington, D.C. since 1933. And it sounds like we didn't miss much.

    2. In fact, game 3 seemed to mirror the first two, except the teams exchanged uniforms. After the Astros left a ton of runners on base in games 1 and 2, the Nationals could not get a critical hit when it was needed.

    3. Seeing Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit was a great first trip to the legendary Ryman Auditorium, but the buckets of drizzle and gloomy skies in Nashville apparently were foreboding signs of things to come for Washington's baseball team. (No frogs, thank goodness.)

    4. Travel Observation #1: If you're going to describe yourself as a cosmopolitan city (and we love Nashville), closing your restaurant 45 minutes to an hour early because you "ran out of food" and saying that's "the way we've always done it" is no excuse. (This is especially true if you are the only restaurant within short walking distance from three new hotels.)

    5. Travel Observation #2: If said new hotel is going to charge full price rates, it should have the amenities you come to expect when you pay full price. Telling your customers that you can't provide room service because you haven't built the restaurant yet (but have made no mention of this on your reservations website) may be factually accurate, but it's not a good look.

    6. Back to baseball: As hard as this Series has been to watch for this Astros/Nationals fan, it was beyond cool to be in the stands for game 4. But in reality, the game was sort of a dud, a grind it out victory for the Astros to tie the series at two games each.

    7. If voting for Gold Gloves took place today, Anthony Rendon and Victor Robles surely would win. Both made spectacular defensive plays in the Nationals loss.

    8. Otherwise, the Nationals seemed tight throughout game 4. The pitching was meh and several hitters could not get untracked. It made for a long night.

    9. Case in point: When Wander Suero has the best results of any of your staff, that should tell you something. All series long, I’ve said that if Suero actually pitches in the World Series, something is dreadfully wrong.

    10. Case in point #2: Fernando Rodney, age 42, pitching to Alex Bregman (possible AL MVP) with the bases loaded. I turned to my friend Eric and said we should leave when Bergman hits a grand slam. Next pitch: Dinger.

    11. We stayed for the rest of the game.

    12. My daughter-in-law, Conner, is running the Marine Corps Marathon in the rain. Major props to her and to my son, Nick, who ran a half marathon last weekend. After the week we’ve had, I’m struggling to get out of bed.

    13. It’s a three-game series, folks. I’m hoping my Astros in 6 prediction doesn’t come true.

  • World Series: Game 2 Observations

    World Series Game 2 observations:
    1. First inning aside for both teams, this was the pitching duel we expected to see for most of the night.

    2. The Nats bullpen has been the definition of "It ain't over til it's over" all season, so I was just as shocked as anyone by the implosion of the Astros in the late innings.

    3. Understatement of the year from Joe Buck: The Nationals bullpen has "some question marks."

    4. In the eighth inning, I was texting with an Astros friend and made a reference to the Nationals as "we," for which I was summarily chided. I proceeded to explain that my other team "had gone wee, wee, wee 20 minutes earlier while still at home." He was not amused.

    5. The entire night felt like a flashback to 2017, but now it's the Astros who are the fat cows and the Nationals who are the underdogs with destiny on their side.

    6. Nerd Fact #1: Verlander has walked the opening batter of a game on four pitches only three times in his career. One of those three was on Wednesday.

    7: Nerd Fact #2: The Nationals have scored 30 runs with two outs during this post season. (See #5)

    8. Nerd Fact #3: Michael A. Taylor has more home runs during the playoffs than he did during the regular season. And that's why baseball is a great game.

    9. Interesting perspective I hadn't thought of: The AL was a case of haves and have nots this year. You were either great or dueling with the Tigers and Orioles for the first pick in the draft. The NL was far more balanced and battle tested, with regular season races going down to the final day. You have to wonder whether that has had an effect on this series, at least so far.

    10. I love aerial coverage of domed stadiums.

  • Checking the Bucket List

    Earlier this year, my wife and I booked a bucket list trip to see Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit at the Ryman Auditorium this Friday. I’ve always wanted to see a show there and Isbell is one of our favorite musicians. Perfect. Check. Especially when I won the lottery to buy two tickets in the front row of the mezzanine.

    I didn’t think much about the fact the World Series would be going on at the same time. After all, the Nationals were struggling to reach .500, let alone make a bid for the postseason glory that had so agonizingly eluded them.

    I thought I had a better shot of seeing a World Series game sometime in my native Houston than ever seeing the Nats play one in our backyard.

    When the opportunity came for the all-in postseason strip of Nationals tickets, we hesitated. Eventually, we bought them, in part because we knew any unused tickets will be credited toward the 20-game package we get each year.

    You know the rest.

    This does have a happy ending. We are giving the game 3 tickets to Emma, cutting our trip to Nashville short, and getting back in time for games 4 and 5. The amount of money we were set to spend for the extra nights in the hotel almost covered the change fees for the flights.

    So I get to knock out multiple bucket list items in the same weekend, and with my favorite baseball teams playing each other to boot. Not bad at all...

    •••••••

    “Who are you rooting for?” is a question I’ve been asked all week. (After a while, it starts to sound like someone is asking me who I voted for, although that answer should be far more obvious.)

    If I have to pick, I’m going with the Nationals. They are a remarkable team with a remarkable story. As much as I love the Astros, they won in 2017 with a season that had a similar feel to this year’s Nats. And the Nationals remain the flawed but feisty underdog, just as they have been throughout the regular season and playoffs.

    That said, the logical part of my otherwise illogical brain says it’s the Astros in 6. That might not be the case, but my hope is we can at least get a series that lives up to the billing of a “fall classic.”

  • World Series: Game 1 Observations

    World Series Game 1 thoughts/opinions/questions:
    1. That Soto kid might have a future in this. Hope liquor doesn't get in the way when he's legal to drink.

    2. Was this karma for the Astros' bungling of the assistant GM comments? Exception to that: A.J. Hinch’s response was thoughtful, appropriate, and spot-on.

    3. Nerd stat: Gerritt Cole was 19-0 in his last 25 starts prior to Tuesday. The last time he lost, the Nationals' record was 19-30. That's just crazy.

    4. It was beyond appropriate that Zimmerman scores the first run in the Nats’ World Series history. On a monster home run, no less.

    5. Springer’s blast reminded me of 2017. Zimmerman’s reminded me of 2005-2011.

    6. When Martinez brought on Rainey in the 7th, I misspoke and referred to the relievers as the Redskins bullpen. Thank goodness THAT wasn't the case.

    7. I'm tellin' ya, this feels like 2017, but with a different team.

    8. I love baseball, but my internal organs (specifically heart and liver) are ready for it to be over.

  • Catharsis

    Editor's note: I have only written a handful of sports stories and columns in my journalism career, but with the possibility of a Nationals/Astros World Series looming, I felt compelled to weigh in here. Skip if you'd like, but take a look at this photo I got following the Nationals Wild Card win two weeks ago. Its title: Catharsis.)

    Two years ago, I went to see the Nationals at spring training with a good friend. The Nats' new facility was just opening and, better yet, they shared it with the Houston Astros, the team that turned me into a baseball fan.

    Growing up in Houston, I'm a National League guy, and found it somewhat disconcerting when the Astros switched leagues almost a decade ago. That was when their teardown was imminent, and I suffered through the losses with many of my Texas friends and family. Becoming a fan of the National League's Nats was easy, given they local and starting to become a perennial playoff contender as my wife's interest in all things baseball emerged.

    In 2017, the Astros and Nationals were slated to square off on the last day we were at spring training. Both teams were expected to do well, and some in the stands questioned if they would eventually meet in the biggest games of all.

    I sat there in my Nationals hat and Astros shirt, hoping for that scenario and secretly dreading that it actually could happen. The exhibition game between the two squads finished in a 9-9 tie, which represented — for me at least — the best of both worlds.

    The season, however, could not have gone more differently for the two teams. The Astros, the team I'd seen lose so many times in heartbreaking fashion, went on a magical run led by the trade deadline acquisition of Justin Verlander. In the ensuing weeks, as the region began to pick up the pieces from Hurricane Harvey, the Astros beat the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers in the playoffs to win the city's first-ever World Series title.

    The Nationals, a veteran club that never lacked characters but somehow lacked personality, ran through the regular season without a glitch, only to lose yet again in the NLDS in what previously could have been termed "Astros-esque" fashion. Dusty Baker's contract was not renewed as the manager. Jason Werth got old and retired. The next year, Bryce Harper, the supposed star of the franchise, ditched the team for Philadelphia.

    Last season was a disappointment for both teams. The Astros won more than 100 games, but were defeated by the Red Sox juggernaut. The Nationals struggled out of the gate and never found their footing.

    The same scenario played out for the first two months of this season. In late May, around the time the Metro closed, making it more challenging for us to get to games easily, the Nationals were 19-31. Between the team and the transportation, Jill and I were pleased we had downgraded from a half season to a quarter season. (At least my free subscription to MLB.TV, a perk of having a quarter season or more, meant I could easily follow the Astros, who again were on a pace to win 100 games.)

    We know what happened from there. The Astros easily won their division and added a dominant pitcher again at the trade deadline. They maneuvered past a stubborn Tampa Bay team in the ALDS and now are engaged in an epic battle with the Yankees to go to their second World Series in three years.

    Meanwhile, somehow, some way, baby sharks and conga lines formed and the Nationals started winning. The starting pitchers were dominant, led by Max Scherzer but especially thanks to Stephen Strasburg, the introvert found himself dancing and hugging his teammates as he went on to have his best season. Juan Soto and Victor Robles made Harper's divadom easy to forget, and Anthony Rendon — a Houston native — parked the free agency Brinks truck outside the stadium to cash in on his MVP-quality year.

    Even though they couldn't catch the Braves, they took hold of the Wild Card lead and never let go, winning the final eight games of the season — including a glorious five-game sweep of Harper's Phillies. In the Wild Card game, they defeated the Brewers in what is the most thrilling sporting event I've ever witnessed, then came back to defeat the Dodgers in the NLDS, advancing to the championship series for the first time.

    Last night, the Nationals finished a sweep of the Cardinals, coming out of the gate with seven runs in the bottom of the first. The Astros-Nationals-Oilers fan in me cautioned that it was not going to be easy, having seen my teams rush out to big leads only to have their hopes crushed in the end.

    But this Nationals team is, well, different. In many ways, the momentum they have reminds me of the 2017 Astros, who are two games away from the matchup I've always wanted and dreaded. They also remind me of the 2005 Astros, whose magical run included a similar comeback that ended with a sweep by the Chicago White Sox in that World Series.

    Who knows what will happen? Will the end result be like 2005 or 2017, or something in between? Will the Yankees make it all moot?

    Questions like that, my friends, are what makes baseball such an interesting journey. For several months each year, you never truly know from day to day and night to night what will take place.

    Off we go!

  • Real-Time World Series Thoughts

    A few real-time lines from the Astros’ win over the Dodgers in Game 7:

    • Smoltz: The Dodgers have squandered too many opportunities in the first three innings. Me: I’m good with that.

    • Has anyone else noted the Clayton Kershaw-Blake Shelton resemblance?

    • You know you’re in trouble when the catcher shouts “Omaha!”

    • Three words that fail to inspire confidence: Astros pitching change.

    • Another lookalike: Justin Turner and the pirate impersonator from Dodgeball. (Chris Elliot works, too.)

    • 6 outs to go. Here’s hoping ghosts of 1980, 1981 and 1986 are left in the darkness of the Astrodome right now.

    • Holy shit! Wow. Wow. Wow.

    • Is it appropriate to insert the f-word between halla and lejuah? It is tonight.

    • It’s not fake news: The Astros have won the World Series!!!

  • 'Mean Girls' and Astros = Good Night

    A great evening. Saw the invited dress for Mean Girls — wow — and then watched the wild ending of Game 5 of the World Series that the Astros won 13-12. With Nick, Conner and Jill, no less. I’m feeling good.

    Interesting factoid that proves something special is happening with the Astros: Kershaw's lifetime record in games where the Dodgers gave him a lead of four runs or more was 100-1.

  • World Series Win #1: Go Astros!

    I got out of a dark theater where I spent the evening shooting a show and saw the Astros were behind 3-1. The Dodgers were already ahead 1-0 in the World Series. Things did not look good.

    The pessimist in me said, “Oh, well...”

    I decided to listen to the bitter end, and even though I should have brought both Rolaids and Tums with me, something about this team is different.

    Congratulations to the Astros on the most unlikely of wins. And it is your first World Series victory to boot.

  • More Baseball (Sorry Not Sorry)

    • Halle-damn-lujah: One of my two favorite teams is going to the World Series!

    • Stat worth noting: Since the Wild Card went into play, no team has beaten both the Red Sox and Yankees to reach the World Series. Until last night...