Aaron at the movies: “Moneyball” review

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Last night I attended an advance screening of the “Moneyball” movie, which is set for a wide release on September 23.

I’ve read Michael Lewis’ book twice and consider it some of the best, most important baseball writing of all time, but I was never quite sure how exactly it could be turned into a compelling narrative film. And I’m still not sure, but I do know that it was definitely an enjoyable two hours.

As a hardcore baseball fan who paid close attention to Billy Beane and the A’s during the period portrayed in the film there were a lot of specifics that stood out as questionable, particularly in terms of the movie’s time lines and exaggerated portrayals of certain characters (although the book is guilty of the latter as well).

However, what the movie lacked in historical accuracy it made up for in witty dialogue, likable characters, and a surprising amount of humor. I saw the movie in a packed theater and there were at least 8-10 moments where the entire audience laughed out loud, which certainly isn’t what I expected.

Brad Pitt is charming as A’s general manager Billy Beane and an effort was clearly made to portray him as far less cocky and far more vulnerable than he appeared in the book. There’s still an inherent cockiness to the character, but by making his 12-year-old daughter a substantial character and giving Pitt plenty of chances to contemplatively stare off into the distance while rubbing his stubble the main character is less brash general manager and more flawed human with a high-pressure job.

Jonah Hill is the movie’s second lead and plays the A’s assistant general manager, which is a position that Paul DePodesta actually held at the time of the Moneyball book. DePodesta reportedly refused to let the movie use his name and it’s easy to see why, as the “Peter Brand” character out-weighs him by about 150 pounds and is essentially the stereotypical stat-head, whereas DePodesta played both baseball and football at Harvard and had a completely different and less cliched backstory.

Which isn’t to say Hill’s fictional character isn’t likable, because he carried much of the movie and provided most of the comic relief as the chubby numbers guy thrust into a prominent job that’s way out of his element initially. Pitt and Hill work very well off each other and Parks and Recreation co-star Chris Pratt has some good moments as Scott Hatteberg, although the portrayal of the 14-year big-league veteran veered too close to Rudy Ruettiger territory at times.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays manager Art Howe and is given by far the most thankless role of the movie, essentially serving as the villain to Beane’s hero. Howe’s relationship with Beane was far from ideal and he left the A’s following back-to-back 100-win seasons, but it’s hard to imagine the actual Howe being as stubborn and difficult as Hoffman’s version. Beane’s character needed roadblocks and frequent conflict, and Howe did little beyond serving that role.

While creative license was taken with plenty of time lines and specifics, the film also does an excellent job of staying true to the most minute details. They mention dozens of actual players, mostly in situations that actually existed, and all of the recreations of games featured the players who were truly involved. When you see the A’s playing the Royals and Luis Ordaz is on second base, you know they combed through the boxscores in order to get every little thing correct.

Parts of the movie dragged on and there were predictable struggles to show rather than tell when the action was lacking, but director Bennett Miller was able to squeeze more drama out of the book than I anticipated. I came into the movie with low expectations and was bothered by some of the poetic license taken in telling a tale I’m very familiar with, but the underdog story is compelling, the individual performances are mostly very good, the Aaron Sorkin-penned dialogue is funny and charming, and “Moneyball” is absolutely worth seeing.

For a lot more “Moneyball” talk, check out the podcast I recorded immediately after seeing the movie.

Astros place Charlie Morton on disabled list with strained lat

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The Astros placed right-hander Charlie Morton on the 10-day disabled list with a strained right lat muscle, the team announced on Sunday. The move is retroactive to May 25, when Morton reported feeling some soreness after his start against the Tigers last Wednesday. He’ll be shut down from throwing for a week and will concede his roster spot to right-handed reliever Jordan Jankowski for the time being. The team has yet to announce a specific timetable for his return to the mound.

Morton, 33, shouldered a 4.06 ERA through his first 10 starts of the season. His 3.6 BB/9 and 10.1 SO/9 were accompanied by a significant uptick in velocity, averaging a career-best 96 m.p.h. on his fastball in recent outings. This is the righty’s first disabled list stint since 2016, when he missed all but four games of the season with a torn hamstring.

Without Morton, fellow right-hander Mike Fiers is expected to retain his place in the rotation. He was reportedly in line for a demotion to the bullpen after producing an abysmal 5.21 ERA through his first 46 2/3 innings of the season. Brad Peacock, who made a spotless spot start for for the Astros last Monday, will fill out the rotation during Morton’s DL stint.

And That Happened: Saturday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Saturday’s scores and highlights:

Yankees 3, Athletics 2: Dellin Betances is fast. Very fast, in fact. Take this pitch, for example, which registered an approximate 100.2 m.p.h. on the radar gun before it ripped through Gary Sanchez‘s mitt — literally:

Josh Phegley flied out to left field on the next pitch, and you have to think he was relieved not to be behind the dish during that at-bat. The win marked the Yankees’ fourth of the week, just enough to keep their heads above water in the AL East.

Blue Jays 3, Rangers 1: It just wasn’t Rougned Odor‘s day. While none of the Rangers looked particularly sharp against Toronto’s defense on Saturday, Odor had the worst of it. He struck out swinging against Marco Estrada in the first inning, then was stranded in the fourth after lassoing a single to left field. In the sixth inning, he tried and failed — in spectacular fashion — to beat out an infield single:

Odor took a final at-bat in the ninth inning as the Rangers attempted a last-minute rally, but it went about as well as the others had, falling in the Rangers’ favor as they executed a smooth play to catch him at first base.

White Sox 3, Tigers 0: There was something for everyone during Saturday’s doubleheader. Game 1 went to the White Sox, where rookie right-hander Tyler Danish made his first major league start to the tune of five scoreless innings, distributing three hits, six walks and six strikeouts for his first career win. Opposing starter Michael Fulmer took the first complete game loss of his career, firing nine hits, three runs and four strikeouts in eight frames.

Most exciting, however, was watching the player tasked with throwing the ceremonial first pitch: none other than Cuban prospect Luis Robert, whom the White Sox officially inked with a $26 million signing bonus earlier that day.

Tigers 4, White Sox 3: The Tigers took the edge in Game 2 of the doubleheader, finally getting on the board with home runs from John Hicks and Victor Martinez and a pair of productive outs (including a run-scoring wild pitch on a swinging strikeout) from J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton. The win effected little change for either team, however, keeping them neck-and-neck in third and fourth place in the AL Central.

Twins 5, Rays 3: Brian Dozier extended his hitting streak to eight games on Saturday, fueling the Twins’ 26th win of the season after he clobbered a two-run, tie-breaking home run in the eighth inning. Byron Buxton rounded out the rally with an RBI single of his own, giving the club just enough cushion to finish off the Rays in the ninth. With the win, the Twins are now a full three games ahead of the second-place Indians.

Phillies 4, Reds 3: If you’re in the market for a walk-off hit, Tommy Joseph is your guy. The Phillies’ first baseman came through in the clutch again on Saturday, polishing off his two-hit performance with a game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Joseph provided the Phillies with his first career walk-off hit on Thursday, lashing a single against the Rockies’ Scott Oberg to finalize the Phillies’ 2-1 win. According to MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, no Phillies player has produced as many walk-off hits in a three-day span since Juan Samuel did so in 1985.

Red Sox 6, Mariners 0: Spot starter Brian Johnson took the mound in place of David Price on Saturday, and what a spot start it was. The 26-year-old returned to Fenway Park for the first time since 2015, executing nine flawless frames in his third major league start and first career complete game shutout. The outing was a redemptive one for the southpaw, who took a line drive to the face when he last pitched in Fenway several years ago.

Johnson’s picture-perfect outing brought the Red Sox within two games of the division lead, but his contributions capped a short-lived stay in the majors. With David Price set to make his season debut on Monday, the rookie left-hander was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket to clear a roster spot for the returning ace.

Nationals 3, Padres 0: Next to the Astros, the Nationals have the largest margin between a first and second place team in any MLB division, sitting a comfortable 8.5 games above the next-place Braves. It’s easy to see why after Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg ripped through the Padres’ lineup this weekend, combining for 28 strikeouts in back-to-back wins. Strasburg’s 15 strikeouts were the most of any start in his career to date, stifling the Padres’ offense through seven innings of the Nats’ 3-0 shutout.

While Strasburg has been pitching with an average run support cushion of 4.31 in all other starts this season, he only needed a three-run backing to put up his sixth win on Saturday. Bryce Harper and Michael Taylor did the honors, scoring on a fielder’s choice and a two-RBI home run, respectively.

Brewers 6, Diamondbacks 1: There hasn’t been a no-hitter in the majors since Jake Arrieta‘s gem last April, but Brewers’ starter Chase Anderson gave it his best shot on Saturday. Anderson crafted seven pristine innings against the Diamondbacks, surrendering three walks and striking out 11 of 25 batters before Nick Ahmed came through with a leadoff single in the eighth.

Anderson was pulled after Ahmed’s single, but even if he had managed to keep the no-no going, it seems unlikely that club manager Craig Counsell would have pushed his starter much further. The righty had already tossed 114 pitches, a career-high mark and the most he’d thrown in a single outing since last May.

Royals 5, Indians 2: Ned Yost was handed his 40th career ejection during the Royals’ win on Saturday — or, as his three-year-old grandson would put it, a “timeout.” Yost was booted in the first inning after arguing against a strikeout call on Eric Hosmer‘s check-swing attempt. While Yost mulled over the ejection in the clubhouse, his grandson took him to task:

Angels 5, Marlins 2: No one can shatter a Mike Trout record like Mike Trout. The Angels’ slugger went yard for the 16th time this season, drilling a 2-2 pitch from Vance Worley 443 feet into the left field concourse during Saturday’s win. According to Statcast, the ball traveled at approximately 113.8 m.p.h. — Trout’s hardest-hit home run in 13 months.

“I hit it good,” Trout told reporters after the game. Truer words were never spoken.

Astros 5, Orioles 2: The Astros prevailed for their third consecutive win on Saturday, helped in part by a Cirque du Soleil-esque catch by shortstop Carlos Correa in the eighth inning. Down 5-2 after seven innings, the Orioles’ Joey Rickard skied a pop up to shallow center field. Correa and Jose Altuve ran in on the play, narrowly avoiding a collision as the shortstop made an impressive over-the-shoulder grab for the first out.

Altuve attempted to dust off his teammate following the play, but Correa wasn’t having it:

Dodgers 5, Cubs 0: The Cubs have yet to score on their road trip this weekend after Brandon McCarthy initiated the Dodgers’ second consecutive shutout of the series on Saturday. In fact, the Cubs have only won two of eight games on the road — and their last road trip win dates all the way back to May 12.

There was no beating McCarthy, however. The right-hander contributed six innings of two-hit ball, striking out six batters before he exited in the seventh with right knee tendinitis. Ross Stripling finished off the shutout, allowing one hit and striking out two of 11 batters to preserve the lead.

Pirates 5, Mets 4 (10 innings): John Jaso played the unlikely hero during the Pirates’ walk-off win on Saturday. He’s batting just .194/.295/.357 through his first 44 games of the year, but had a breakthrough moment in the ninth inning, lacing a pinch-hit single to left field to send the game to extras.

The Pirates chased Tyler Pill out of the 10th inning, loading the bases to bring Jaso back to the plate. He battled through nine pitches against Josh Edgin, finally selecting a 3-2 slider for his second RBI single — and walk-off run — of the night.

Cardinals 3, Rockies 0: Adam Wainwright is on a roll. He turned in his third win in a row after holding the Rockies scoreless through seven innings, giving up three hits and six strikeouts to bring the Cardinals within half a game of the division lead.

The Rockies, meanwhile, took the loss in stride. Gerardo Parra kept fans distracted from the team’s losing effort, even handing out sticks of gum in the ninth inning:

Giants 6, Braves 3: After four straight losses and a cumulative six runs scored, the Giants finally broke through against the Braves on Saturday. Nick Hundley got things started in the second inning, putting the Giants on the board with his first home run of the season:

In the fourth, Brandon Belt drove a four-run spread with his tenth home run of the year, while Ty Blach engineered his own run support with an RBI single. Blach was even better on the mound, pitching through 7 2/3 innings with two runs and five strikeouts and setting Mark Melancon up for his 10th save.