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THE BASEBALL GODS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN

There’s an old phrase that people throw around when something inexplicable happens on a baseball diamond. There are unbelievable turns of events in any sport, but they seem to happen in baseball the most. When they do—when there’s a home run that floats out of the park seemingly because of a cosmic gust of wind, or when there’s a grounder that worms its way around infielders and into the outfield for a late-inning RBI—we throw up our hands and declare that the only explanation is that the Baseball Gods are out there having a little fun. The Red Sox breaking the Curse of the Bambino by completing an epic comeback against the Bambino’s Yankees? Baseball Gods. The Cubs finally winning a World Series when their drought reached 108 years? Baseball Gods. When you realize that there are 108 stitches on a baseball? Well, you get the idea.

The Baseball Gods are having a field day right now. If you’ve watched these playoffs or this World Series, you know what we’re talking about. It was there in the ALCS, when the Astros, having led all game, gave up the lead in the 9th inning. With Houston up to bat, second baseman José Altuve—fan favorite and Astros lifer—stepped into the batter’s box against Aroldis Chapman, the filthiest pitcher of his generation. With two outs, Chapman left a slider hanging, something that never happens, and Altuve launched a home run that sent Houston back to the World Series. “It was just so perfectly fitting,” said Astros ace Justin Verlander after the game. “It could have been nobody else but him.” And, of course, the Baseball Gods.

They’ve turned their attention on Washington too. This time, another long ball. Game 1 of the World Series. Top of the second. Nats down 2-0. Here comes Ryan Zimmerman, “Mr. National” as we discussed last week. Franchise’s first draft pick. First star. Outlasted Bryce Harper and eight managers. He swings, and there it goes, gets a little extra carry and is gone. The first World Series home run in franchise history. As his first baseman was rounding the bases, Nationals manager Davey Martinez said he started to cry. The Baseball Gods play heartstrings like Yo Yo Ma plays a cello.

So go ahead, turn on ESPN and listen to analysts try and debate why the Nationals were able to vanquish the Astros’ two-headed pitching monster of Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. Parse through the stats. Be our guest. At the end of the day, though, you might not be able to explain it and that’s okay. Just look towards the heavens and know that there might be something bigger at work.

What do the Baseball Gods have planned next? The World Series heads to Washington, D.C. for game 3, tonight at 8 PM EST on Fox.

Harry How / Getty Images

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL IN LA-LA LAND

A big part of the reason why certain fanbases get branded as “long-suffering” is from all the Charlie Brown moments when the football gets pulled out from under them. It’s not enough to simply suck; a team must catch its most loyal supporters in a violent game of giving dreams enough room to develop, only to crush them predictably at the moment those dreams feel the most validated.

It’s with this in mind that we watch the preseason hype of the appropriately-deemed “long-suffering” Los Angeles Clippers franchise. Elton Brand couldn’t get the Clips past the second round of the playoffs. The Donald Sterling scandal wasted Chris Paul and Blake Griffin’s best chance at winning the West. Now, hope springs eternal on the backs of the newly acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They looked great in their season opener against the Lakers, but is this really the Clippers year? We’re not so sure. Haven’t we seen this story before?

The new-look Clips take on the Phoenix Suns Saturday night at 10 PM EST.

Bob Levey / Getty Images

HOLY WARS

Thirty years ago this week, the SMU Mustangs travelled to the University of Houston and proceeded to get…how should we put this? Shallacked? Blitzkrieged? Curb stomped? It doesn’t matter what you call it. It was bad. Like, losing 95-21 and giving up 1,021 yards of total offense to the Cougars kind of bad. But we don’t just remember the game as one of the most lopsided contests in college football history—it also might just be the weirdest ever, too.

Both teams were embroiled in scandals, with the 1989 Mustangs being SMU’s first team after receiving the death penalty, and the Cougars having received a two-year bowl ban for recruiting violations. Most strange to us today? The NCAA banned both teams from playing on TV for the 1989 season, so nobody could watch the epic beatdown—nor any others from Houston QB Andre Ward’s Heisman-winning season.

In 2019, things are no less interesting for these two schools. SMU, led by Texas Longhorn transfer QB Shane Beuchele and second-year head coach Sonny Dykes, is in the midst of a renaissance, undefeated and ranked 16th in the AP poll. Houston, for its part, canned head coach Major Applewhite in the offseason because apparently winning eight games is not up to the Cougars’ standards. But some seniors on this year’s team have accused new head coach Dana Holgerson of tanking the season.

Both teams kept it close last night, but ultimately, SMU got revenge, winning 34-31 after a 94 yard-touchdown pass with four minutes to go. Maybe next year’s the year that the Mustangs will put up 100 against the Cougs.

SO LET IT BE WRITTEN…

Jose Altuve Delivers Postseason Moment Worthy of His Stature in Baseball

By Tom Verducci • Sports Illustrated

On deadline, the best baseball writer in America delivers a perfect tome on one of baseball’s most special moments, and one of its most special players.

Playing the Old Course With Bill Murray Is Every Bit as Epic as it Sounds

By Patrick Koenig • Golf

Golf writer Patrick Koenig was covering a pro-am in St. Andrews and had a tee-time on the Old Course on the Monday after the tournament. The night before he was set to tee off, he discovered he’d have a special partner for his round: none other than Bill Murray, Carl Spackler himself. It was about as fun as you might expect and features a Bill Murray miracle shot, because of course Bill Murray has miracle shots when playing St. Andrews.

How a Utah Coach Responded After Two Boys on His Lacrosse Team Died By Suicide

By Courtney Tanner • Salt Lake Tribune

Juan Gaytan left Texas for Utah to pick peaches. Years later, he became the coach of a lacrosse team that was struck by tragedy: two of his players had committed suicide in a matter of months. Gaytan thought about disbanding the team, but after listening to players he decided to lead them through an experience nobody, least of all himself, was ready for.

Elsa / Getty Images

REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST

Every year, players retire from their respective sport and issue proclamations about what the game meant to them. Longtime Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia threw the last pitch of his storied career in this year’s ALCS, and two days after the Yankees were eliminated, issued a similar proclamation via Twitter. It’s the first sentence that stands out:

“It all started in Vallejo, CA in my grandma’s backyard throwing grapefruits at a folding chair.”

From throwing grapefruits to pitching in the World Series for the New York Yankees. How cool are sports?

OLD SCHOOL

Crime and Punishment (1996)

By Gary Smith • Sports Illustrated

Tonight, longtime SI scribe Gary Smith will be awarded the lifetime achievement Dan Jenkins Medal for Excellence in Sports Writing, considered the highest honor available to a sports writer. He is certainly deserving. Smith mastered the SI “Bonus” piece, and in the process, won a record four National Magazine Awards (the magazine equivalent to a Pulitzer).

“Here is a man. Barely a man; he just ran out of adoloscence,” is how Gary Smith begins his 1996 profile of Richie Parker, a top basketball recruit who loses all of his scholarships after being convicted of sexual assault. It reads like a short story, an American tragedy. He tells the story with great care and, most importantly, empathy. Read in the era of #MeToo, it’s a masterclass in how a reporter should deal with tricky sexual assault cases.

Stacy Revere / Getty Images

HYMNS

The story of the University of Wisconsin’s “On, Wisconsin!” starts in the Civil War, when General Arthur McArthur, Jr. used those words as a rallying cry in the Battle of Chattanooga (he’d be awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts in that battle). Fast-forward to 1909: The University of Minnesota was hosting a contest (with a $100 prize) for whoever could write the best fight song. One composer, short on cash, struck up a tune called, “Minnesota, Minnesota,” but when his roommate, a Wisconsin alum, heard the song, he rewrote the words to incorporate the Civil War slogan, convincing him to submit the song unsolicited to the University of Wisconsin instead. The Badgers were fans and played it for the first time in a 1909 game. Four years later, a judge tweaked the words to be less football centric, and it became the official state song, codified in Section 1.10 of Chapter 170 of the state constitution.

Despite a big loss last week, the Badgers look to play spoiler this weekend against number three Ohio State. Check it out at noon EST on Fox.

LAST WORDS

“If you get it, in the way a poet hears the muse and a sculptor sees the form, you know how good baseball can be for the soul.”

Tom Verducci

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