THE PALLILOG

Charlie Pallilo: On the Rockets, Astros, college hoops and Olympic hockey

Charlie Pallilo: On the Rockets, Astros, college hoops and Olympic hockey
A.J. Hinch does not have a lot of decisions to make. Jason Behnken / Getty Images

The final six weeks of the Rockets’ regular season will be anything but boring as they roll toward a new franchise record for regular season wins (all they need is a 15-10 finish) and battle the Golden State Warriors for the best record in the NBA (winning that battle will require more along the lines of a 20-5 finish).

Astros’ spring training should be delightfully boring. For the World Series Champions no news will be good news. Any significant news would probably be injury related. Manager A.J. Hinch has three fringe roster decisions to make; who gets Yuli Gurriel’s spot as he serves a five game season-starting suspension, whether to carry a third catcher or a more versatile last man on the bench, and whether to carry a marginal lefty reliever.  

No Texas fight

So, who’s doing the less impressive job this season: Billy Kennedy or Shaka Smart? The Aggies climbed out of the hole of an 0-5 start in SEC play to get to 6-6 following wins on the road at then 8th ranked Auburn and at home over then No. 24 Kentucky. And since have dumped three straight games including getting destroyed at Arkansas and then losing at home by 12 to a middling Mississippi State team. That has the Ags 6-9 in SEC play with games remaining at Vanderbilt, at Georgia, and home vs. Alabama. They should win at least two of those three and be OK for an NCAA Tournament berth. But worse than that followed by a first round loss in the SEC Tournament…

Meanwhile, Smart makes over three million dollars per season at Texas and has a produced a record to this point of 47 wins 47 losses.  I thought Smart was a tremendous Horns’ hire. I’ve been wrong before. The loss of Andrew Jones to a leukemia diagnosis was a big blow to an offense that too often is inept. But scoring all of 48 points in a loss at Kansas State this week was pitiful. UT is 6-9 in Big 12 play. Its remaining three games are against teams that have already hooked the Horns this season: Oklahoma St., Kansas, and West Virginia. I don’t care how good and deep the Big 12 is, a team that goes 7-11 in conference does not belong in the NCAA Tournament unless it wins two games minimum in its conference tournament.

USA! USA! 

It’s only once every four years that there’s any realistic chance of me watching a women’s hockey game. The latest quadrennial occasion was Wednesday night and it sure was worth is as the U.S. women beat Canada for the gold medal. Four years ago in the gold medal game the American women had a 2-0 lead with five minutes left but blew it, and lost in sudden death overtime. 10 of the players who swallowed that bitter pill were back and tasted the sweetest victory. It was a great game and a great story, made even greater in that twin sisters scored the tying and game winning goals for the U.S. Can’t wait until Beijing in 2022!

Remembering the Miracle

Thursday marked the 38th anniversary of the greatest sporting event in U.S. history. It was Feb. 22, 1980 when the entirely amateur-comprised American hockey team stunned the Soviet Union machine at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

It is inconceivable that a future sporting event could resonate as strongly in this country as did that victory coupled with the subsequent gold medal win. The USSR was our sworn Cold War enemy, our economy was a mess, and we had 52 hostages held captive in Iran. It was not the best of times.

We did not win the gold by beating the Soviets. That victory got the U.S. a shot at gold playing against Finland two days later. It wasn’t a straight up gold medal game. Under the format of that time a loss to the Finns would have meant only bronze for the U.S. A tie would have resulted in the gold to the Soviets on a tiebreaker.

Against Finland we trailed 2-1 after the second period. In the third period we scored the tying goal, while unbelievably, ABC-TV was in commercials. Out of the commercials Al Michaels said “We’ve got the greatest news of all for you. As you can see the Americans, the mob scene there, Phil Verchota has just scored to tie the game!”  Not quite as famous on the Al Michaels page in Bartlett’s Quotations as “Do you believe in miracles….yes!!!”

ABC managed to not be in commercials for the go ahead and insurance goals that capped the Miracle On Ice.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Kansas wraps up an insane 14th straight Big 12 title if it wins at Texas Tech Saturday.   2. I wonder if Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock think Kevin Hart is very funny.   3. Match Game Super Match Edition, Ice ______ :  Bronze-Ice, Baby!  Silver- Breaker  Gold-Cream.

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Astros defeat Tigers, 4-1. Composite Getty Image.

Ronel Blanco had the second hitless outing of his brief major league career but was pulled after seven innings as the Houston Astros beat the Detroit Tigers 4-1 on Sunday.

Blanco (7-2), who threw the only no-hitter in the majors this season on April 1 against Toronto, was just as good this time in the 20th start and 37th appearance of his career. The 30-year-old right-hander threw 94 pitches with 65 strikes and tied a season best with eight strikeouts. He walked three.

Ryan Pressly replaced Blanco to start the eighth and gave up the Tigers' first hit, a two-out single by Wenceel Pérez.

Jose Altuve hit a three-run homer for Houston.

The Tigers couldn’t do much of anything against Blanco a day after they had a season-high 19 hits in a 13-5 trouncing of the Astros.

Blanco didn’t allow a baserunner until he walked Gio Urshela with two outs in the fifth.

He then walked Akil Baddoo and Carson Kelly to load the bases, but retired Zach McKinstry on a flyout.

Blanco made a good defensive play for the second out of the sixth when he grabbed a comebacker hit by Matt Vierling. He then sat down Riley Greene on a popup.

Urshela reached with two outs in the seventh on a throwing error by third baseman Alex Bregman. Blanco then retired Baddoo on a fly ball that center fielder Jake Meyers caught on the warning track to end the right-hander’s day.

After the hit by Pérez, Pressly sat down Vierling before Josh Hader took over for the ninth. Mark Canha singled with one out and scored on a double by pinch-hitter Andy Ibánez.

Urshela grounded out and Hader struck out pinch-hitter Jake Rogers to end it.

Detroit starter Kenta Maeda (2-3) permitted five hits and four runs in five innings.

Altuve hit a leadoff single before moving to second on a wild pitch with one out. The Astros took a 1-0 lead when he scored on a single by Yordan Alvarez.

Mauricio Dubón singled with one out in the second and Chas McCormick drew a two-out walk. Altuve made it 4-0 with his shot to center field.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: Manager Joe Espada said RHP Justin Verlander, who was scratched from Saturday’s start with neck discomfort, was feeling better Sunday and could start in the team’s next series against the Chicago White Sox. … RHP Luis Contreras was selected to the major league roster to take the place of RHP Nick Hernandez, who was optioned to Triple-A Sugar Land Saturday night. To make room for Contreras on the 40-man roster, RHP Cristian Javier, who recently had Tommy John surgery, was transferred to the 60-day injured list.

UP NEXT

Tigers: RHP Reese Olson (1-8, 3.68 ERA) starts for Detroit against Braves LHP Max Fried (6-3, 3.20) in the opener of a three-games series at Atlanta Monday night.

Astros: Houston is off Monday before opening a three-game series at the White Sox Tuesday night. The Astros haven’t announced their starters for the series.

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