TURNING THE PAGE

How the Astros finally conquered the gap between media and reality

Max Kellerman, Astros Dusty Baker, Stephen A. Smith
All-Star voting is done by fans, not the media. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Seven Houston Astros, two more than any other team, are in the final running for starting positions on the American League All-Star team. What does this tell us … other than these players are having big seasons and the Astros lineup is stacked for another drive to the post-season?

Obviously there's a disconnect between the media's coverage of the Astros and how actual, real-life, talent-appreciating baseball fans feel about the Astros.

This was supposed to be baseball's summer of discontent toward the Astros, the fans' first chance to express in-person their disgust and hatred of the Astros since news broke of their illegal sign-stealing in 2017 and possibly beyond.

If you follow the national media's coverage of the Astros' season so far, let's go to the video, you'll see fans holding "Astros cheaters" signs and chanting "F-Houston." You'd think the Astros were a despised band of rogues and the team needed to be banished from baseball. You'd think the Astros lineup consists of Hannibal Lecter at first, Freddy Krueger at second, Snidely Whiplash at short and Hans Gruber (from Diehard, my favorite movie villain) at third base.

But like they say on the Weakest Link, "it's votes that count." All-Star voting is done by fans, not the media, and the Astros are crushing the ballot box.

The Astros' real-life infield: Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman all finished Top 3 and qualified for the final runoff vote this week. Catcher Martin Maldonado, outfielder Michael Brantley and designated hitter Yordan Alvarez also made the final cut.

Consider that the same four infielders played for the 2017 championship Astros and have been receiving the brunt of boos in ballparks and media criticism. Altuve is the bull's-eye on the Astros target. There's no denying that Gurriel, Correa, Brantley are having sensational seasons, but injured Bregman is having a down year, Maldonado is hitting a teeny .171 and fans still voted for them.

Fans, the true umpires of the games, are voting in droves for these supposed scoundrels. If anything, there should be an eighth Astros on the runoff ballot: Kyle Tucker, after a rough start, has been every bit an All-Star. It just shows how loaded the Astros offense is - Tucker bats seventh most games.

In numbers there is strength. The Astros lead the American League in team batting average, RBI, hits, on base percentage, slugging, runs scored and probably pine tar used, bubblegum chewed, crotches adjusted … why not?

The Astros hope of landing multiple players on the All-Star team is boosted because the deadline for fans voting is Thursday and the Astros are playing at home this week. When the Astros play at Minute Maid Park, fan interest rises, the games start at a reasonable time and, Monday night's ninth-inning fizzle notwithstanding, they usually win.

As they say in Chicago, vote early and vote often, which is illegal in politics, but encouraged in baseball. While no Astros finished first in his position race, anything can happen in elections. For this second and final stage, you can vote once every day. So start the steal, for real this time.

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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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