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An Astros Game Recap Juxtaposed Against the Symphonies of Mahler

Sep 1977; Los Angeles, CA, USA: FILE PHOTO; Atlanta Braves pitcher Mickey Mahler (24) pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darryl Norenberg-US PRESSWIRE
Sep 1977; Los Angeles, CA, USA: FILE PHOTO; Atlanta Braves pitcher Mickey Mahler (24) pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darryl Norenberg-US PRESSWIRE

The Astros lose to the Pirates 6-2, dominated by ex-Astro Wandy Rodriguez and burdened by horrific defensive play and an inept offense. Astros player of the game is Brett Wallace with a run scored and an RBI. Joel Hanrahan has a really nasty beard.

In the never ending quest to come up with an interesting write up topic, tonight's recap will bring a bit of culture to this otherwise athletics-centric website. This recap will compare tonight's ball game to the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, thereby providing a juxtaposition between the two that symbolizes hope, despair, cake, death, and finally rebirth. More or less.

First Inning: Symphony Number 1 in D Major

Just like the First Inning of tonight's Astros' game, Mahler's First Symphony opens with an extended and slow introduction built around a single note. In fact, its first movement title is "Langsam, schleppend" (Slowly, dragging). Fans tuning in to tonight's game against Wandy Rodriguez and the Pittsburgh Pirates at 6:00 were greeted with a rain delay that pushed the start back to 7:20. In the same manner, it takes a while for Mahler to get to the point in Symphony No. 1. However, the symphony is in a key evocative of the same cheerful hope that accompanies the beginning of every Astros game. Indeed, the game begins with a single by Jose Altuve followed by a steal of second - a promise of good things to come.

Then, things turn sour. Tyler Greene and Brett Wallace both strike out and Maxwell grounds out, evoking sinking feelings in the breasts of fans. This is ably represented by Movement 3: "Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen" (Solemnly and measured, without dragging), a dirge-like rendition of Frere Jacques with a sarcastic eastern European folk theme thrown in to mock the fact that we dared hope for a good inning outcome. The fourth movement opens with an angry-sounding fanfare because of the Pirate run allowed by Jordan Lyles in the first inning.

Some allege that the unresolved countermelodies in the First Symphony allude to the social conflict between Jewish and Christian cultures in the late 19th-century, but in reality the dischord implies the Pirates' rise to prominence and the Astros' fall from perennial contention during the beginning of the 21st-century.

Second Inning: Fourth Symphony in G major

The game is still early, and so the feelings of hope and joy that accompany a new baseball game are still strong. This calls for yet another symphony in a major key, and the Fourth fits this bill. This symphony is built around the song "Das himmlische Leben", which (according to Wikipedia) presents a child's vision of Heaven. To some of us, baseball is a small slice of our treasured memories of childhood, and the first movement captures this by opening with playful sleighbells.

Though no scoring happens during the second inning of the ball game, the music's playfulness portrays the silliness of Lyles getting a solid hit to advance Jimmy Paredes. Though nothing comes of it in the long run, it provides that fun moment that Astros fans will soon miss when they move to the DH league - that moment when one thinks, "Ha ha, our pitcher just got a hit! I bet the opposing pitcher is ticked off!"

The fourth movement captures the idyllic bottom of the second inning, in which Lyles sets down the Pirates hitters with a peaceful ease. In this, Lyles is represented by the operatic soprano warbling her metaphoric curveballs in a nearly incomprehensible German.

Third Inning: Fifth Symphony

Mahler's Fifth' starts with a crunching and angry trumpet fanfare, followed by a weighty and pompous theme that portends despair just on the horizon. Similarly, the third inning of tonight's baseball game begins with a very irritating ten pitches by Wandy Rodriguez that result in a pop-up, a line out, and a strikeout. The C#-minor key of the first movement and A-minor in the second succinctly summarize the frustration Astros' fans feel at watching the offensive ineptitude (pun intended) of the Astros at the plate, particularly as the second movement opens into a frantic mishmash of competing violin and brass lines.

The third movement, in D major, reminds the viewer that the score is still yet 1-0 in favor of the Pirates, and that the tying run could be just a short dance away in the Fourth Inning. So far, Lyles looks sharp, and fans have every reason to remain hopeful. That mournful horn one hears at the outset of the fifth movement (D Major) is the cry of pain given by Jose Tabata as he fouls a ball off the top of his foot. The country dance that follows is him hopping on one leg around the batter's box counterpointed by the fans' amusement at the spectacle. The fanfare heard at the end of the Fifth Symphony, one of the most epic finishes in all of Classical literature, paints a portrait of they joy I feel because of the cake my wife just brought me.

As an oncore, a recap of the first two movements (in minor keys) are in order to bring the mood back down into gloomy territory, to account for the two additional runs scored by the Pirates at the end of the inning. Score is 3-0 Pirates.

Fourth Inning: Sixth Symphony in A minor, "Tragic"

Mahler's Sixth Symphony was composed with the Fourth Inning of tonight's game in mind. After the inning, Fangraphs puts the Pirates' Win Probability at 85.7%. It is more likely at this point that an average house pet will begin speaking in tongues than that the Astros come back to win. The first movement of the symphony begins with a martial onrush representing Wandy's 12-pitch 1-2-3 inning. Despite no Pirates scoring in the bottom of the inning, the game marches on relentlessly, as in the opening of the third movement.

The fourth movement's dreamy and at times obnoxious meandering is an Astros' fan's mind wandering as yet another game grows out of reach. That tuba solo is the fan wondering if his or her beer will magically refill itself to at least give him/her something to exclaim about around the water cooler at work tomorrow. The Sixth is Mahler's least performed symphony, and the fourth inning has been so far the most forgettable.

Fifth Inning: Ninth Symphony

The second movement of Mahler's Ninth Symphony begins with a dance-like tune that compares well to Brandon Laird's strong single to center to lead off the inning - an unlooked-for jolt of happiness amid chaos and despair. Alas, the movement disintegrates into a barely-melodic jumble of moving parts that only serve to lead into the chaos of the third movement. Laird's single, much like the second movement, comes to naught, and the Astros are still held at zilch through the halfway point of the game. The Ninth symphony only becomes more chaotic as it reaches its climax, but the final movement ends in almost a whisper, by far the quietest and most understated finale of any of Mahler's symphonies. The fifth inning ends similarly, with the tired Astros showing little fight as the Pirates push across yet another run.

With one inning to go, Lyles is pulled from the game, which Mahler foreshadows by dying shortly after the completion of his Ninth Symphony, with his Tenth Symphony as unfinished as Lyles' 4-2/3 innings pitched. Just like how Mahler's Tenth has been cobbled together from various notes left behind with his students, Lyles has left a messy game for his relievers to mop up with no hope of earning the Win. The trajedy that is Lyles' season (3 wins, 10 losses, 5.46 ERA) can only be compared to Mahler's final years, which included the death of his wife, the diagnosis of a heart defect, and his own death. Granted, that comparison is ridiculous, but Lyles hasn't been very good.

Greene dropped a pop-up for the third out after bumping into Laird. Even Mahler could not have forseen that type of incompetence. Didn't somebody just post about how good Greene has been on defense so far? So much for that. There is no hope for a completed Tenth Symphony, and the Astros' Win Probability is now only 2%, and the score is 6-0.

Sixth Inning: Seventh Symphony in E-minor

It took Wandy seven pitches to set down the Astros in the top of the sixth. According to Wikipedia, when Mahler's Seventh Symphony was premiered, the principal trumpet in the orchestra confronted Mahler, saying "I'd just like to know what's beautiful about blowing away at a trumpet stopped up to high C-sharp" Mahler had no answer, but later pointed out to his wife that the man did not understand the agony of his own existence. As a fellow trumpeteer, I can just imagine the eye-rolling of the principal as he viewed the piece for the first time and fought through the difficult orchestration. As an Astros fan, I sympathize with Mahler. The agony of the Astros' season can only be experienced as something visceral and obnoxious, otherwise the point is lost. The sixth inning is that obnoxious high C-sharp in this game. One wants it to just go away and advance to the seventh so one can go to bed, but one has to pass through to get to the other side.

The Seventh Symphony is sometimes titled, "The Song of the Night." Because of the game's late start, 9:30 feels very late to only be the sixth inning, and the second and fourth movements, both titled "Nachtmusik", make the watcher weary of successive Pirates two-out singles that keep extending the inning even further. Even the esteemed Fox broadcast crew sound disinterested in the game in front of them.

Seventh Inning: Third Symphony

The Third is Mahler's longest symphony, just as the seventh inning feels like the longest inning of the game. So long in fact, that in addition to this section of the recap, I was able to write the complete section for the Ninth Inning as well. Wandy pitched the top of the inning "Kräftig, entschieden", or Strongly and Decisively, just like the first movement. The movements become more and more introspective in their titles:

  1. "Pan Awakes, Summer Marches In"
  2. "What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me"
  3. "What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me"
  4. "What Man Tells Me"
  5. "What the Angels Tell Me"
  6. "What Love Tells Me"

When flowers start speaking to a baseball fan, I know it's time to start thinking about what I will do once the game concludes. As animals, the archetypal representation of 'man', and angels begin to talk, I wonder what was in that cake in the third inning that is making me hallucinate. Finally, love of baseball is telling me to pay attention. I look up in time to see Pedro Alvarez reach first on an error by Rhiner Cruz. The Astros' Win probability is now 0.6%. Maybe talking to flowers is preferable after all.

Eight Inning: Eighth Symphony ("Symphony of a Thousand")

Brett Wallace knocks in Matt Dominguez with a two-out double to end the shut-out. That sound you hear is six hundred voices singing in jubilation - the opening strains of Mahler's "Symphony of a Thousand", a raucous and joyous celebration. The Eighth Symphony is a renunciation of the pessimism that permeates symphonies five through seven. It is a return to glory; a triumph of orchestral significance. After nearly three hours of offensive drought, one run scored by the Astros feels like a cause for celebration instead of the cause celebre of the previous seven innings.

The second part of the symphony follows the story of Goethe's Faust, in which Faust is led around by Mephistopheles, to whom he has sold his soul. In this game, the horned one is played by the collection of Drayton McLane, Tim Purpura, and the various cast of characters that dragged the Astros from one of the most admired franchises in baseball to its current laughingstock state. The soul is played by the Astros' franchise itself, and the angels that eventually trick Mephistopheles and steal the soul back to heaven are represented in this instance by Brett Wallace, a Cardinals draftee of now-Astros-GM Jeff Lunhow, who together will lead the Astros' stable of minor league prospects back to the promised land. Just like the voices of joy that conclude the Eighth Symphony, Astros fans cry out in happiness as Wallace crosses the plate to score the second run of the inning.

Ninth Inning: Symphony No. 2: "Resurrection"

Sure, the Astros lost and the game was made tedious by bad starting pitching, an almost-nonexistent offense, and unforgivable fielding blunders. But without dark there cannot be a light, and Mahler's Resurrection symphony, his most popular, summarizes this aptly in one massive testament to there being light on the horizon. The Astros' historically terrible season can only be viewed against the backdrop of what has happened with the front office and the moves that have been made. New GM Jeff Lunhow has hired some of the brightest minds in baseball, and has turned straw into gold. The Rumpelstiltskin of Bayou City took a 106-loss team with no assets and still somehow managed to turn the minor league farm system into one that has become the envy of many a club.

Tomorrow is a new day and a new game. Next season is a new season, in a new league, with payroll flexibility of the like that has not been seen by any club in decades. The words of the fourth movement of Mahler's Second Symphony summarizes this hope:

Primeval Light
O red rose!
Fans lie in greatest need!
Fans lie in greatest pain!
How I would rather be in in the AL.
There came I upon a broad path
when came a little Drayton and wanted to turn me away.
Ah no! I would not let myself be turned away!
I am from Houston and shall return to Houston!
The magic Lunhow will grant me a little light,
Which will light me into that eternal blissful playoffs!
—From Des Knaben Wunderhorn (more or less)