Before the scores, some important Batman news. You may want to scroll down past this, because I’m gonna take a bit of time here.

In case you missed it last night, Ben Affleck has been cast as the Dark Knight in the upcoming Batman/Superman movie. Many people alerted me to this news last night the way you might alert a mother that her child has died. They tried to break it gently. They made sure that I was not in distress as I tried to process the news. When they saw me in a state less than tears, they assumed I was in the denial stage of the grieving process. It was quite the scene.

But while I thank my friends, real and virtual, for thinking of me and assuming that I would utterly lose it at the thought of Affleck as Batman, I’m really OK with it. Why? Because — and please brace yourself for some Real Talk — Christian Bale wasn’t anything extraordinary or irreplaceable as Batman. There, I said it.

“Batman Begins” was an incredible movie and, in it, Bale was fantastic. He played the young Bruce Wayne wonderfully and helped connect a, let’s admit it, somewhat silly character to us as viewers. It was real acting from a guy who is an incredible actor. “The Dark Knight” was an even better movie. Just perfect on almost every level. But Bale was nowhere near the best part of that movie. His growly voice as Batman may have been faithful to certain comic book interpretations and may have made sense in the “real world” version of Batman that Christopher Nolan was going for, but it was distracting. And his Bruce Wayne scenes, while fine, didn’t exactly require Oscar-level acting. You can almost see Bale getting a bit bored with the Wayne stuff at times. He’s above it.

“Dark Knight Rises” was a pretty bad movie. Let us not pretend it wasn’t. Some cool scenes and set pieces, but it was pretty weak. You may bristle at this — and, like a kid brother, I may defend it to outsiders who don’t understand that Batman is awesome overall — but among friends we need to be honest about the fact that it was a pile compared to the other two. And, I would argue, compared to the two Michael Keaton Batman movies in at least certain respects.

So: no, this isn’t like hiring Jack Lemmon to play Don Corleone in “Godfather Part II.” This isn’t like getting Robin Williams to play Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs II: Electric Boogaloo.” Affleck has dark hair and a square jaw and as we saw in “Argo” he can play it straight and act like a real adult and not be some stereotypical Boston goon like we often consider him to be. He’ll be fine.

We survived Val Kilmer and George Clooney. We can survive Ben Affleck. End of rant.

[exhales, sits back, stares emptily into middle distance]

Dodgers 6, Marlins 0: Clayton Kershaw (8 IP, 5 H, 0 ER) is like Doctor Manhattan. So superior and gifted that the mortals bore and disappoint him. He’s likely considering going to another planet to find new challenges for himself. He didn’t even have his best stuff yesterday and no one could really touch him. It’s almost unfair.

Pirates 10, Giants 5: Quite the disaster for the Giants as Matt Cain left early after taking a comebacker off his right arm. Thankfully X-Rays were negative. The bullpen, sadly, was pretty negative for the Giants too. And while ten runs and a win was nice for the Pirates, they have to be worried about Jeff Locke, who is looking increasingly gassed and ineffective as the season winds down.

Reds 2, Diamondbacks 1: Four wild pitches for Arizona, a couple which set up the Reds run in the third and another that actually scored the winning run in the eighth. The Reds took three of four from the Dbacks, effectively burying them in the wild card race, one figures.

Yankees 5, Blue Jays 3: A lot of the people who think it’s a longshot for the Yankees to get back into the race and make the playoffs think this because the starting pitching has been so poopy lately. As such, seeing Andy Pettitte allow one run over six innings has to be, at the very least, encouraging. The Yanks have won five in a row and ten of twelve. A-Rod for MVP.

Twins 7, Tigers 6:  Chris Herrmann had a couple of RBI doubles, one of which was aided by Austin Jackson misplaying the ball. The Twins take two of three from Detroit.

Nationals 5, Cubs 4: Stephen Strasburg was one out from a complete game but then he ran out of gas and had some defensive miscues behind him allowing the Cubs to rally for three runs. Four innings later Denard Span doubled and some small ball scored him for the go-ahead and, ultimately, winning run.

White Sox 4, Royals 3: Chicago fought back from a three-run deficit to force extras and then Conor Gillaspie socked a homer in the 12th. Pretty sure that’s the first time I ever used the phrase “socked a homer” in my life. Weird.

Phillies 5, Rockies 4: Philly scored four of their five runs in the last two innings, capped with Domonic Brown’s walkoff single. Oh, remember yesterday when I suggested that a walkoff sac fly was the least exciting walkoff event? I’m now thinking a walkoff balk qualifies. By definition it requires the absolute bare minimum of movement to happen. Like, a simple flinch could make it happen. Would love to see a World Series end on a walkoff balk. Joe Buck would probably capture that moment for the ages.

Cardinals 6, Braves 2: Joe Kelly wasn’t sharp but he was effective. Jordan Schafer was 0 for 5 with two strikeouts leading off for Atlanta. The Braves are gonna miss Jason Heyward something fierce.

Champagne after a loss? Why not?

Astros Wild Card
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There was some hockey person last week arguing about how it was silly or untoward for baseball teams to celebrate clinching wild cards or other, less-than-championship-level accomplishments. Calling it bush league or lacking in act-like-you’ve-been-thereness or what have you. I can only imagine what he’d say about the Astros celebrating with champagne following (a) winning a wild card; and (b) losing the game which immediately preceded the celebration.

But screw him. Seriously.

I used to think that way. Indeed, if you search the HBT archives I’m sure there’s a post or two in which I disapprove of teams engaging in multiple champagne celebrations. But I was wrong about that and I’ve changed my mind on the matter over the past year or too. And on some other matters as well, all for the same reason: athletes are people just like us, not some avatars for our machismo and our fantasies. They’re people who have spent their entire lives devoted to their calling and do it under a lot of pressure and in the face of a lot of criticism and expectations from others. Why on Earth would anyone deny them their happiness upon the realization of an accomplishment?

This is even more true if you’re one of those misguided souls who erroneously believe that sports actually is separate from real life and believe them to be supremely and impossibly important. Even if you’re right — and you’re not — wouldn’t that give the athletes an even greater incentive to celebrate accomplishments? Funny how those people who who act as if sports is life and death would deny athletes their joy for defying death, as it were.

My view on the matter now is that if a guy hits a homer he should be able to celebrate it. If a pitcher strikes a guy out, he should be able to celebrate it. If a team makes the playoffs, no matter how low their seed and no matter the manner in which the accomplishment is achieved short of their competitors going down in a plane crash, they should be able to celebrate if they so choose.

So enjoy your hangovers this morning, Houston Astros.

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights


Diamondbacks 5, Astros 3: The Astros lost but, in the course of the loss, they learned the Rangers won and that was all Houston needed to clinch the wild card. No better way to evade beat writers’ questions about what went wrong out there than to be in the process of getting roaring drunk and thinking about playoff baseball, right? And come back in a bit, as I’m going to have a post up later in which I explain why it’s totally cool for a team to have a champagne celebration after clinching a mere wild card. Which some people think is lame.

Rangers 9, Angels 2: Cole Hamels was supposed to be a pickup for 2016 but, in his final start of 2015, he pitched the Rangers to the division title with a complete game. Adrian Beltre‘s homer and three RBI and the Angels’ craptastic bullpen, which uncorked a six-run seventh inning, didn’t help.

Orioles 9, Yankees 4: Joe Girardi whined a bit about having to start this game at 3pm, saying that an all-important game 162 shouldn’t be decided in long shadows. Hey Joe: if you had won either Game 160 or 161 on Saturday this game wouldn’t have mattered to you. Or if you had used your roster in a manner that suggested some manner of urgency, which you didn’t do in any of the games in this series against Baltimore, it wouldn’t have mattered either. And, of course, it ultimately didn’t matter thanks to the Astros’ loss. Wild Card game in the Bronx tomorrow. Viva long shadows.

Dodgers 6, Padres 3: Clayton Kershaw faced 13 batters in his final tuneup before the playoffs. He struck out seven of them. Yeah, gonna say he’s tuned up nicely. That gave him 301 strikeouts for the year. Before yesterday baseball had not had a 300-strikeout pitcher since 2002, when both Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did it.

Braves 6, Cardinals 0; Braves 2, Cardinals 0: After a span of 24 winless starts stretching back to May 17, Shelby Miller finally gets a win. This is exactly the sort of thing which should set him on the right track and really help him in his next few starts.

Oh. Wait. Damn.

Phillies 7, Marlins 2: The game didn’t matter a bit in the standings but it mattered for Dee Gordon, who went 3-for-4 with a homer and a double and ended the season with a .333 average and the batting title thanks to Bryce Harper‘s 1-for-4 in the Mets-Nats game. Gordon bomes the first NL player to lead the league in batting average and stolen bases (.333/58) in the same season since Jackie Robinson did it in 1949. Which, wow.

Pirates 4, Reds 0: 98 wins and the Pirates are still playing a one-and-done game on Wednesday and needed this win just to clinch home field for that game. Man, the NL Central was rough this year.

Rockies 7, Giants 3: Down 3-0 in the ninth, the Rockies rallied for seven. Pretty sure the entire 2015 Rockies highlight reel will just be a quickly-burned DVD of that inning.

Tigers 6, White Sox 0: It was a year to forget for Detroit, but at least it ended with a young pitcher acquired in a mid-season white flag trade pitching a nice game. The pitcher was Daniel Norris who allowed one-hit over five innings. The outing allowed the Tigers to think a bit about the future.

Indians 3, Red Sox 1: And on the last day of the season the Indians move above .500. What a weird year for them. Such a talented team which had so many issues putting it together in the first half and, later, when it mattered most.

Cubs 3, Brewers 1: Chicago ended the regular season with a three-game sweep in Milwaukee and forced the Pirates to win one for home field advantage in the wild card. Regular season momentum doesn’t really mean much in the playoffs, but if it makes the Cubs feel better between now and Wednesday to say they have it, all the better for them.

Royals 6, Twins 1: Like I said: momentum doesn’t much matter, but on the off chance it actually does, Johnny Cueto has to feel OK, having allowed one run over five innings. We’ll forget for a second that it came against a deflated, recently-eliminated, spit squad Twins lineup.

Mariners 3, Athletics 2: After the game Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon tossed his cap into the crowd. Which is fine as it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be needed it next year. Not that I can act all smug given that I was one of those loonies who though the Mariners would make the World Series.

Mets 1, Nationals 0: Like Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom was merely tuning up for the NLDS. He’s running just fine too, having tossed four shutout innings with seven strikeouts. They were no-hit innings too, actually, but it’s not like Terry Collins was going to leave him out there for that sort of thing with the playoffs looming. Curtis Granderson‘s eighth inning solo shot was the only scoring. The Nationals, finally, have been put out of their misery and can go home and wonder about what in the hell happened to them this season.

Rays 12, Blue Jays 3: Mark Buehrle was supposed to come in and pitch two innings to get his 200 for the year and then retire. Which would’ve been a neat thing for him given that he’d tossed 200+ innings for 14 straight years before that. He couldn’t escape the first inning, though, as first the Jays’ defense and then his ability to get dudes out disappeared. Oh well. One crap inning doesn’t negate a first-ballot Hall of Very Good career.

And with that another regular season is in the books. Another season of 8, 12, or (usually) 15-game days. Of flipping TV channels or radio stations or clicking between websites and between games. Games which, compared to the other 2,400 or so that happen during a season, mean nothing. But mean everything. Games which can be enjoyed and savored for a bit if your team won and enjoyed and easily forgotten if your team lost. The easy listening soundtrack of the past six months now fades away and in its place comes a 30-day burst of hardcore intensity.

And it’ll be a lot of fun. The playoffs are the point of it all, right? Assuming, that is, baseball has to have a point. Maybe it does, but it’s an assumption that, the older I get, is less and less necessary for me to hold in order for me to enjoy it.

Thanks for another good season, everyone.