Charlie Pallilo: What's next for Rockets-Warriors, and appreciating Verlander's brilliance

Justin Verlander is doing sick things as an Astro. Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Do the Rockets carry momentum into Sunday’s night Western Conference Final Game 3? Nah. If they have the momentum now, who had it after the Warriors slapped the Rockets silly in the second half of Game 1? Momentum must be generated anew in each game. The Rockets’ Game 2 blowout win was a phenomenal response in a game where all the pressure was on them. Pressure turns coal into diamonds. Pressure can also burst pipes. The Rockets’ plumbing turned out to be just fine in their direly needed multi-carat response to having dropped Game 1 at home. Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, and Trevor Ariza were all tremendous in Game 2, after pretty much stinking like rotten eggs in Game 1. Which show do they take on the road?

The champions have posted one clunker performance in each round thus far this postseason. None of those clunkers came in Oakland. The Warriors have won an NBA record-tying 15 consecutive home playoff games, so as things stand they remain the definite series favorite. If the Rockets can start Game 3 well they can inject some doubt into the otherwise raucous Oracle Arena crowd, and more important, perhaps into the Warriors themselves.

Stephen Curry making only 2 of 13 3-point shots in Games 1 and 2 was certainly surprising, but does not mean he is hobbled by the knee that cost him a chunk of the regular season and Golden State’s first six playoff games. Barring new information, if Curry keeps misfiring it’s because the greatest outside shooter ever picked a lousy (for the Warriors) time to slump, not because of the knee. In the four games he played in the Warriors’ second round series vs. New Orleans Curry made 15 of 34 threes (44%). Golden State then had five days off before the start of the WCF.   

Making his pitch

During his two month fling pitching for the Astros in 1998, Randy Johnson impacted attendance like no other Astro ever. His starts here were like rock concerts. The Big Unit only made five regular season starts at the Astrodome, the lowest attendance among the five was 40,217. Twice, more than 52,000 packed in. Johnson was beyond spectacular, firing shutouts in the first four of those starts. In the fifth he finally gave up two runs (but still won). In four of the five starts Johnson threw at least 129 pitches. Overall in 11 regular season starts with the Astros, Johnson went 10-1 with an earned run average of 1.28 -- and in the heart of the Steroid Era.

In 2005 Roger Clemens had his ERA at a “you have to be kidding me” 1.32 24 starts into the season. He faded some late in the season pushing his ERA “all the way up” to 1.87. Clemens got laughably feeble run support that season so he only won 13 games, which probably cost him another Cy Young Award. Dumb voters. On the other hand, in 2004 Clemens won his seventh Cy when Johnson was more deserving. That would have been The Big Unit’s sixth Cy, tying him with Clemens for the most all-time. On a third hand, Clemens was absolutely jobbed out of a Cy way back in 1990 when Bob Welch was awarded for winning 27 games with Oakland. Welch of course pitched very well that season, but not even close to what the Rocket did. Anyway…

Justin Verlander is now in the back half of his third regular season month as an Astro. In five starts last year his ERA was 1.06. After shutting out the Angels Wednesday night, Verlander’s ERA through 10 starts this season is 1.05. Unless up against a Rockets NBA Finals game, Verlander starts at Minute Maid Park should all be sellouts going forward. His next should be Wednesday against the Giants (alas, a matinee). Verlander’s Hall of Fame level greatness is at its apex and should be appreciated and celebrated as such. That’s before even including the whole he helped the Astros win the World Series!!! thing.

Times change. Verlander’s shutout against the Angels was his eighth career shutout. Clemens threw eight shutouts in 1988. Verlander keeping an ERA at or close to 1.05 is basically impossible. Bob Gibson’s sick 1.12 in 1968 is the lowest in the last hundred years. While stupefying, Gibby’s 1.12 came in a year so pitching-dominated that the next season Major League Baseball lowered the pitching mound five inches and shrunk the strike zone. Gibson threw 28 complete games in 1968. Verlander’s Wednesday was the 24th complete game of his career.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Tom Herman will be in his 6th season at UT when the Horns play Alabama in 2022. Right?   2. A Sherpa this week scaled Mt. Everest for a record 22nd time. Who likes a show-off?   3. Next greatest mountains: Bronze-Rainier  Silver-Olympus Gold-Space


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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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