IT'S ALL ABOUT DISCIPLINE

Texans take major precaution at the start of training camp during COVID-19

Texans make major changes to keep everyone safe. Photo by Getty Images

What does normalcy look like in 2020 for the Houston Texans? It's walking into your team's facility using face recognition to avoid touching door handles. It's giving your teammates air high-fives to avoid unnecessary physical contact. And it's witnessing your weight room getting sanitize half a dozen times on a daily basis.

In an ordinary year, the Texans would have been preparing to start the first of four preseason games — originally scheduled to take place on August 14, against the Minnesota Vikings. Instead, Houston's head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien finds himself thankful to have no players test positive for COVID-19 with the season set to begin in a little over a month.

"So far, it's been good," O'Brien told reporters on Friday. "I know it's really early. We feel really good about where we are at. We have zero positive tests. I think that's a good sign."

The Texans began training camp on July 25 facing the same unenviable challenge the remaining 31 teams around the league and the rest of the sports world have encounter since mid-March — adjusting to the effects of the coronavirus.

But even before the start of training camp, teams around the league have already dealt with the effects of COVID-19. The NFL has provided an option to give players the opportunity to opt-out who do not feel comfortable taking the field in 2020. It's an option almost 40 players around the league have taken advantage of, including Texans' defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes. Despite the risk, some players felt the award is worth the gamble.

"At first it was just, of course, a lot of different stories coming out about the protocol and things like that," Houston's quarterback Deshawn Watson said. I feel like safety and health is always first. We all want to play football. We all want to do the right things, but at the same time, we have to make sure because we're going home to our families and people that might have a health condition or might have some type of problem."

"For us, to be able to come in and take the precautions and do the right things is very important. I know that this organization from when I came in have changed everything and put in the right safety precautions – the sanitizing to the locker room to the way we manage things. The first couple days of camp have been great and what we've seen has been a big change. We're going in the right direction, especially for this organization."

The Texans have taken extreme measures to keep their players and team personnel safe, in particular, by providing a wrist sensor that will alert an individual when they are standing less than six feet apart. O'Brien, who has endured 20 COVID-19 test, says all players are obligated to wear a mask when they are in the building, and does not understand the political uproar among citizens who choose the latter.

"I don't understand why it has been as politicized as much as it has been," he said. "Mask wearing has been scientifically proven to reduce your chances of getting the coronavirus."

With no players testing positive for the virus, the most significant hurdle for Houston right now is getting their rookies accustomed to the NFL level. As they prepare for their first season, O'Brien says this year's class has a tough road ahead of them after a late start to training camp and no preseason games. How will they adapt? The team is making preparations to hold two intrasquad scrimmages while O'Brien stressed the importance of his rookies leaning on their veterans i.e. Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt and Justin Reid.

"I told somebody the other day that this is the cleanest building in Houston. You could eat off the floor in here... I think the most disciplined team away from the building will have the best chance to win." — Bill O'Brien

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Houston goes up 1-0 in the series

Altuve, Correa help lift Astros to ALCS Game 1 win over Red Sox

Carlos Correa's go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of ALCS Game 1 helped lift the Astros to a 1-0 series lead. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite one rough loss to the White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros looked like the dominant team they are capable of being, taking that series 3-1 to advance and taking ownership of home-field advantage in the ALCS against the Red Sox, who upset the Rays. In Game 1, despite trailing for the middle portions of the game, Houston would get more highlight moments from the faces of the franchise to start the series with a win.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek

Losing Pitcher: Hansel Robles

Houston strikes first, but Boston sends Valdez to an early exit

Both starting pitchers worked in and out of trouble in the early goings of ALCS Game 1, starting with Framber Valdez in the top of the first. After erasing a leadoff single by inducing a double play, he went on to load the bases on a single and two walks but would strand all three runners to keep Boston off the board. The Astros jumped in front in the bottom half, with Jose Altuve working a leadoff walk, moving to second on a one-out single by Alex Bregman, advancing to third on a wild pitch, then ultimately scoring on a sac fly by Yordan Alvarez to put Houston ahead 1-0 after one frame.

They had a chance to extend their lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a shaky inning by Chris Sale, who loaded the bases with one out as Houston would get two singles and a hit-by-pitch. That flipped the order over to the top, but a great diving catch by former Astro Kiké Hernández would end the inning. Hernández led off the top of the third against Valdez, and he would tie things up with a solo homer.

Things went downhill from there for Valdez and the Astros, as a one-out walk followed by a single gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in scoring position. On a groundball that likely should have been a double play to end the inning, it would get through Altuve's legs, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive for Boston. They took advantage, getting an RBI double to extend their new lead to 3-1. Valdez would get one more out before Dusty Baker would give him the early hook, bringing in Yimi Garcia, who finished the frame.

A battle of the bullpens, Altuve ties it up

Like Valdez, Sale would also not make it through three innings, getting two outs while putting two on base before Boston would start their bullpen's night as well. Both sets of relievers settled the game down, with the Red Sox stranding two of Houston's runners in the third as well as the fifth, maintaining their two-run lead. After Garcia finished the third, Cristian Javier entered to eat up a couple of innings, and he would do just that by getting through two frames with just one hit, four strikeouts, and no runs.

Next, Phil Maton took over in the top of the sixth and erased a leadoff walk to keep things in striking distance for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put another runner on base, getting a one-out single by Chas McCormick. Two batters later, with two outs, Jose Altuve provided yet another career postseason highlight, tying the game 3-3 with a two-run home to re-energize the Minute Maid Park crowd.

Astros take ALCS Game 1

Now a brand new ballgame in the top of the seventh, Brooks Raley came in to face three batters, getting two strikeouts while allowing a single before Dusty Baker would move on to Ryne Stanek, who would get the third out. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Correa continued his march to a monster off-season contract, putting Houston back on top with a solo homer, making it 4-3.

Houston kept the script after Stanek with the new lead in hand, going to Kendall Graveman as the setup man in the top of the eighth. Despite a two-out single, he would get out of the inning with the lead intact, putting Houston three outs away from the victory. After a walk, single, and hit by pitch to start the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, Altuve would drive in his third run of the game, getting a sac fly to extend the lead to two runs at 5-3.

That insurance run proved pivotal, as closer Ryan Pressly was met with a leadoff solo home run by Hernandez, his second of the night for Boston, to make it 5-4. Pressly refocused and was able to get the next three batters in order, though, wrapping up the win to start Houston off with a 1-0 series lead and putting them three wins away from advancing to the World Series.

Up Next: The two teams will have a moderately quick turnaround, with ALCS Game 2 scheduled to start at 3:20 PM Central on Saturday ahead of NLCS Game 1 between the Dodgers and Braves getting the night slot. The pitching matchup is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi for Boston, who is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his two starts this postseason, going opposite Luis Garcia, who had a rough outing in the ALDS for Houston, giving up five runs without completing three innings in Chicago.

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