Winter 2020

Unscripted

History in the Making

The Nationals, held in check for most of Game 7 of the Fall Classic, broke it open within the span of three batters, while Matt Gangl and his gang caught every angle

By Steve Chagollan


Howie Kendrick rounds third base after his game-winning homer, captured by a P1 camera on a Movi rig. (Screenpull: MLB)

In the against-all-odds scheme of things, the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals stood apart from all that came before.

The Nationals—who slipped into the playoff picture as a wild card—were not expected to be there. Nor had they ever been. More significantly, it was the first time the visiting teams in the series went undefeated.

Even so, entering into Game 7 in Houston, home field advantage could not be dismissed out of hand, especially for a team that was crowned world champions only two years before, with many of the same players on the field.

Save for the first game, which was decided by one run, none of the contests were very close. "There wasn't a lot of drama," says director Matt Gangl. The veteran Fox staffer, who had two previous World Series under his belt, was "hoping for something to happen in games six and seven, and it definitely got better."

Things came to a head in the seventh inning of the seventh game, after the Nationals' Max Scherzer—who couldn't even move his neck three days earlier and was scratched from Game 5—gave up a home run at the bottom of the fifth, making it 2-0, but he subsequently managed to get out of a tight spot with multiple men on base. Things could've been a whole lot worse.

Gangl is always mapping out human-interest angles prior to the games, and in this case, he and his team focused on the two Cy Young Award winners facing off: Scherzer and Zack Greinke. "We were just talking a lot about the starting pitching matchup, knowing that it's the last game of the year, and that everybody is at the (coach's) disposal, and the chance of (Astros ace) Gerrit Cole coming in at some point. We were constantly watching him. The same on the Nationals' side; they had (Patrick) Corbin waiting, but then (Aníbal) Sánchez behind him. That was really the big theme: pitching changes and when to make them."

With 40 cameras at his disposal, Gangl was ready when all hell broke loose for the Nationals within the span of three batters in the seventh. With one out, Greinke gave up a home run to Anthony Rendon. He then walked Juan Soto, one of the night's more cocksure performers. "Part of a baseball game is that matchup between pitcher and batter," notes Gangl. "Who's going to win that battle? And (Soto) gets into it with this attitude of 'I'm going to win it every time.' I did more stuff where we would start tighter and pull back head to toe because he's got a little bit of a swagger to him."

If there's a master shot in baseball, it's the vantage point behind the pitcher. "The centerfield camera, that kind of over-the-shoulder (angle) where you see 99% of every pitch, that's kind of where the camera lives," says Gangl. But for a game many consider less fast-paced than basketball or hockey, Gangl will cut repeatedly to capture as many subplots as he can. "There are a lot more assignments," he says, "a lot more situations, where you are looking for certain reaction shots, who you are trying to isolate in the dugout with which cameras."

With the tying run on first base, Astros manager A.J. Hinch replaced Greinke with Will Harris, an iffy move that backfired on the first pitch—a cutter low and away to Howie Kendrick that was slammed off the foul pole in right field, and the Nationals never looked back. "We have a great audio crew," says Gangl. "On that Kendrick home run, you hear that 'dong' as it hit the side of the foul pole. We've got a mic there."

The bravura tracking shot that followed Kendrick rounding third to home plate and into the dugout, ending with a ritualistic dance, is as cinematic as baseball gets.

"That's a P1 camera on a Movi rig so it's on its own gimbal," says Gangl, "so it's like a Steadicam, but smaller. It's great because the guy can be out there just off the field of play running alongside and you don't get that bounce that you would get with a handheld camera. You can get a tight shot from a lot of different cameras, but you can't get that same feeling and perspective without actually being on the field next to somebody."