COLD AS ICE

Angry at the Astros for their lack of hitting? Not as much as this guy

LIke most of the Astros, Marwin Gonzalez has been a disaster at the plate in this series. Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

A New Year’s Day tradition is the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, where men swim in frigid waters.

Needless to say, there is shrinkage in the packages of male swimmers.

The distance to Yankee Stadium is 25 miles and if I did not know better I would think the Astros bats were getting ready to swim. For the last three games, the best hitting team during the regular season has shrunk. The come home for Game 6 and (hopefully) Game 7 at Minute Maid Park just one win from elimination in the American League Championship Series, down 3-2.

There is no swag.

Confidence appears to have disappeared into timid bats. Yankee pitchers looked like men against boys in the three straight home wins. And the Astros hitters tried to be Babe Ruth, swinging for the fences only to ground out or hit weak fly balls.

Where have the mucho grande cajones gone?

Let’s check the numbers against the Yankees. The Astros are batting .147 against the Yankees and have scored a paltry five runs. They have gone 11-for-92 (.120) with five extra-base hits, no home runs and 25 strikeouts in the three games in New York. With runners in scoring position, they went 2-for-21, including 0-for-8 in Game 5.

George Springer is 2-for-18 in the series. Josh Reddick is 0-for-17. Alex Bregman (2-for-17) and Marwin Gonzalez (2-for-15) are struggling, too. Even Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa were muted in New York. They went a combined 2-for-22 in Games 3-5.

Dallas Kuechel, who has dominated New York, was mortal, giving up four earned runs in 4.2 innings, striking out 8 while giving up 7 hits.  It did not matter if it was Judge, Sanchez or Gregorius.  Joe Girardi’s hitters think they are Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle or Joe D.

Down 3-2, they will face Luis Severino at Minute Maid Friday night.  Justin Verlander must continue his mastery as an Astro.  But unless the bats come alive, they will be the Not Ready For Prime Time Players and there will be no Game 7.

In five games your heroes have scored a total of nine runs! That’s right, just nine runs. The bats have been colder than a prostitute's heart.

Regardless of how jaded I am covering H-Town Sports over the years, I have bought World Series tickets for games at Minute Maid. I will show up. Let's see if the bats do as well.

Chirp!

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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