Astros in command position to have home-field advantage in ALDS

Astros face the lowly Diamondbacks next. Composite image by Jack Brame.

If the Texans reeeeally want to open some eyes, opportunity knocks for them Sunday in Cleveland. They had a solid and easy opening win over the Jaguars, but Jacksonville is pitiful. The Browns are AFC contenders coming off an 11-5 2020 season, and in their opener led the Chiefs in Kansas City 22-10 before seeing the game slip from their grasp (or having Pat Mahomes rip it from that grasp). The Browns are favored by 12 and a half, making the Texans the biggest underdog in the NFL this week. I expect the Texans to lose along the lines of 27-13, but merely note that the only way to pull off a huge upset is to be a huge underdog.

The rest of the AFC South fell on its face week one. The Titans (at Seattle), Colts (home vs. the Rams), and Jaguars (home vs. the Broncos) are all underdogs this week. If the Texans are 2-0 while everyone else in the division is 0-2…

Astros take on the D'Backs

Off taking three out of four in Arlington from the awful Rangers the Astros and the White Sox losing two straight at home to the Angels, the Astros are in command position to at minimum have home-field advantage in their American League Division Series. They lead the Chisox by three games and have the tiebreaker sewn up. The Astros trail the Rays by four games for the best record in AL. This weekend at Minute Maid Park the Astros get the even worse than the Rangers Arizona Diamondbacks. The D'Backs are 47-99. With a 4-12 finishing kick they can match their franchise record for losses, put up in 2004. The great Randy Johnson went 16-14 that season for a team that went 51-111. The Big Unit was clearly the best pitcher in the National League, but lost out on the Cy Young Award to Roger Clemens who won his seventh. The Rocket went 18-4 for the Astros and was incredible, but clearly not as good as Johnson was. Had Johnson won the Cy he would have six as would Clemens. But that's ok, because Roger got jobbed out of a Cy Young he absolutely deserved in 1990, another he probably deserved in 1992, and a third for which he had a strong case with the Astros in 2005. At 43 years old in mid-August of '05 Clemens had an earned run average of 1.32 before "fading" to a league leading 1.87 finish. Whatever one believes of went into Clemens's late career brilliance, he was incredible to watch.

Turn back the clock

As the Astros close in on their fifth straight postseason appearance, next week takes us to the 35th anniversary of the 1986 Astros securing their playoff spot. September 23, 24, and 25 of 1986 has to rank at or near the top of the most fun regular season three day stretches in franchise history.

On the 23rd Jim Deshaies threw a two hit shutout as the Astros shutout the Dodgers 4-0. That was the game in which Deshaies set a Major League record by striking out the first eight opposition batters (the Marlins' Pablo Lopez broke the record this year by striking out the first nine Braves he faced July 11). Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda was so flustered he pinch hit for his pitcher in the third inning with two out and nobody on in a 2-0 game. Pinch-hitter Larry See popped to second.

The next night Nolan Ryan fired eight innings of one hit ball (reliever Charlie Kerfeld gave up a hit in the ninth) as the Astros blanked the Giants 6-0.

The following afternoon Mike Scott threw his National League West Division clinching no-hitter in the Astros 2-0 win over the Giants.

Those Astros would lose an epic National League Championship Series to the New York Mets. ESPN's latest 30 for 30 debuted this week, a four-parter about the '86 Mets called "Once Upon A Time In Queens." It's phenomenal, with a good chunk of part three about the Mets-Astros LCS. Worth a watch, whether as an Astro fan of that time wanting to work up some fresh bile for the Mets of that time, or as a period piece.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Salute to Sal. Royals' catcher Salvador Perez hit his 45th home run of the season Thursday, tying Johnny Bench's single season homer record for a player who is primarily a catcher. Bench did it as part of a vaunted Cincinnati lineup that became known as the Big Red Machine. Perez's Kansas City team is 12th among 15 American League teams in runs scored, dead last in the AL in homers.

2. So John Wall and the Rockets evidently agree that his playing for them this season is of no interest. Finding a trade sucker (errrr, partner) to take the two seasons nearly 92 million guaranteed dollars left on Wall's deal without the Rockets having to trade away draft picks and/or take back other absurd contracts? Good luck.

3. Greatest Browns: Bronze-Bad, Bad Leroy Silver-Otto Graham Gold-Jim

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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