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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