OFF THE TOP OF MY BALD HEAD

Barry Warner: Sitting down for a Q&A with Shaq

Barry Warner with Shaquille O'Neal. Courtesy photo

Before Game 2, when the Rockets looked like the 65-win team, I visited courtside with an old friend - TNT Analyst Shaquille O’Neal.  I covered Shaq over 25 years ago when he was playing for Cole High School in San Antonio. A quick Q&A with the big man:

Q: Shaq, as you reflect on your career, what are you proudest of?

A: That a young kid from San Antonio, Texas, a football state, could go on to the NBA and win not just the rings, but meet so many wonderful people. Most of all, that young kids, our future, can look up to me.

Q: What did you learn from your rookie season in Orlando when the Dream schooled you in the 4-0 sweep for the title?

A: I learned a great lesson. If you want to succeed you must be humbled and fail. Always have to learn. We came against the Rockets after beating the Bulls and got manhandled. Dream had four or five moves that were impossible, even at my size, to defend.  He was devastating on the block, then would move away so quickly with the Dream Shake. Dream had four or five moves on each shot.

Q: How about your relationship with Yao Ming?

A: At first, I tried to create a controversy, then my father got very upset. He read my fan mail and reminded me that a 14-year-old kid from Shanghai, China named Yao Ming wrote to me several times. We hang out when I am in China and became great friends. It’s cool how two different people from two different worlds became close.

Q: How great could Yao have been healthy?

A: He would have been incredible and eventually the best center in the world. Yao could shoot from outside with touch and played great defense.  Had he been healthy, there is no question the Rockets would have won some championships.

Q: Is this series more like the main course compared to an appetizer?

A: This is the series America has wanted to see right from the start of the season.

Q: Do you realize that you are a crossover? Older people knowing you as the NBA star, while the millennials see you as the fun- loving pitch man on commercials, the rapping and acting career?

A: I’m just here to have fun and make people smile.

On the Rockets

So, Andre Iguodala may be held out of tonight’s Game Four. Big freaking deal.

Your home town heroes in short pants are the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players.  Harden continues to dribble, dribble until the shot clock goes down. His teammates continue to make turnovers and not defend.

Coach Mike D’Antoni called them soft after getting hit by the haymaker.

The playoffs make and define legacies The Rockets have spent months living up to their promise that this season would be different: They have won more games, defended more effectively, and played with greater consistency than at any point during Harden’s tenure. But now they are down 2–1 with Tuesday’s Game 4 at Oracle Arena, where Curry and the Warriors are undefeated in the playoffs since 2016.

Three seasons ago, the Beard had 13 turnovers in the series ending loss.

And how can we forget Game 6 here last season when he was a no show, acting like a guy from outer space who never played the game, a  39-point drubbing against the Spurs?

Steph Curry’s return to All-World form occurred in the 41-point Game 3 win with 35 points. After getting his groove back, Curry immediately went back for more, torturing Harden with crossovers before stepping back into another ceiling-scraping 3. He celebrated that one in vintage style, breaking into the type of extended shimmy that has long delighted the Oakland crowd and ticked off hoops purists.

Chirp!

 

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Yordan Alvarez provided the offense to back up more stellar pitching by the Astros as they took ALCS game 6 to advance to the 2021 World Series. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of this series in Houston then falling behind in the series 2-1 by dropping the first of three games in Boston, the Astros took over the ALCS in Games 4 and 5, sending them back to their home crowd with a chance to finish things off in Game 6 at Minute Maid Park. After another stellar performance by their pitching staff and more timely hitting, they would accomplish that mission, winning the series and moving on to the 2021 World Series.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 0

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston wins 4-2

Winning Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Losing Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Houston strikes first to start tightly-contested Game 6

After a scoreless top of the first inning by Boston's offense, the Astros capitalized on a chance to be first to score in the bottom of the frame. Alex Bregman started the two-out rally, reaching base on a single against Nathan Eovaldi for the first hit of the night. Yordan Alvarez followed, delivering his sixth RBI of the series with a double to put Houston on top 1-0.

That did not spark further immediate scoring, as the one-run score held while both starting pitchers provided solid outings for their team. For Eovaldi, he was able to limit Houston to just that single run through four frames. He returned in the bottom of the fifth, facing two batters, allowing a single, and getting a strikeout to end his night.

Garcia impresses in big start

For the home team, they were recipients of another expectation-exceeding performance from one of their young arms. Only anticipated to go a handful of innings, Luis Garcia worked efficiently and effectively against Boston, keeping them scoreless and hitless through five innings. He continued in the sixth, getting two more outs before allowing a two-out triple, ending his night as Phil Maton would enter to strand the tying run. Garcia's final line: 5.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 76 P.

With both teams dipping into their bullpens, the Astros took advantage of Boston's as Yordan Alvarez's dominance went on display once again. He led the inning off with a triple, then scored on a double-play ball to extend Houston's lead to 2-0. Kendall Graveman took over on the mound in the top of the seventh and worked himself into a big moment. He gave up a one-out walk, followed by a single, which put runners on the corners for Boston. He continued to struggle with the zone, falling behind the next batter 3-1, but was able to battle back to get the strikeout paired with a terrific throw by Martin Maldonado to cut down the runner from first trying to steal second, ending the inning and maintaining the two-run advantage.

Astros headed to the World Series

Ryne Stake was Houston's next reliever, and he put Houston three outs away by getting a 1-2-3 eighth. With Ryan Pressly warming, he watched and hoped that his offense could give him some more insurance to work with when he went to the mound in the top of the ninth. His wish would be granted, as after getting two on base, Kyle Tucker would put a major exclamation point on the night's offense, hitting a three-run opposite-field homer to the Crawford Boxes to push the lead to 5-0.

Pressly, now with the five-run lead, came on to try and start the celebration by getting the final three outs. Against the tougher part of Boston's order, he would get a 1-2-3 inning, giving the Astros the American League pennant, which along with those won in 2017 and 2019, puts them back in the World Series for the third time in five years.

Up Next: The Astros will have three days off before The Fall Classic kicks off. While Game 1 will be on Tuesday, October 26th, nothing else has yet been determined as Houston awaits to see which of the Dodgers and Braves will advance out of the NL, which will also dictate if the Astros will host or travel to World Series Game 1.

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