ROUGH DAY FOR HOUSTON SPORTS

Chiefs once again remind Texans what a real championship contender looks like

Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

It was an unprecedented day in Houston sports history Thursday as for the first time its three major professional teams all played meaningful games on the same day. THUD, THUD, THUD. In reverse chronological order of play Thursday:

The Texans returned to the scene of the crime to kickoff the NFL season Thursday night, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City site of their thorough playoff collapse back in January. They pretty much picked up where they left off. Unlike the postseason debacle where they led 24-nothing before epically unraveling, this time the Texans took only a 7-nothing lead before getting destroyed the rest of the way. The Chiefs are the reigning Super Bowl champs with good reason and are going to beat most of the teams they play, but the Texans took a two-by-four to the forehead reminding all how far away they are from real championship contender status. In less than seven quarters of football from early second quarter of the playoff game to before the Texans scored two garbage time touchdowns Thursday night, the Chiefs obliterated the Texans 82-14.

The offensive line with all five starters back, underwhelmed. The Chiefs applied persistent pass rush heat on Deshaun Watson resulting in four sacks with more avoided thanks to Watson's greased pig elusiveness. The Texans had basically no downfield passing game.

Next up for the Texans are the Ravens at fan-less NRG Stadium. Then they play at Pittsburgh, then home vs. the Vikings. So 0-4 out of the gate is absolutely in play. If the games were decided by which team has the better head coach and general manager, 0-4 would be more than in play.

Rockets down 3-1

From down three games to one perhaps the Rockets have a dramatic series comeback in them. Stop laughing! Sports happen. But the better bet is that General Manager Daryl Morey's "we should win this thing" proclamation is going down as laughably and arrogantly not even close. The Rockets are good. The Lakers are clearly better. They have the two best players in the series in LeBron James and Anthony Davis and there is nothing the Rockets can do about that.

In games two and three the Lakers squashed the Rockets in the fourth quarter, in game four it was settled by halftime. The Lakers relaxed and got lazy and dumb (led by LeBron) which enabled the Rockets to close within five with just under a minute left, but that was that. The story is that the Laker defense has disrupted and flummoxed the Rocket three point bombs away attack, and defensively the Rockets way too often opened a can of quit. Sometimes when taking an ass-kicking a team can look like it gave up or didn't show up, when really it's just a matter of getting vastly outplayed. That after game four neither James Harden nor Russell Westbrook neither denied a lack of team intensity nor had an explanation for it is an indictment of a pseudo-contender.

Harden turned 31 last month, Westbrook turns 32 in November, Eric Gordon turns 32 Christmas Day, P.J. Tucker is 35. It's been a quarter century since the Rockets last won the Western Conference. There is no good reason to think the drought ends any year soon.

Astros go down swinging

We can stick a giant fork in the Astros' run as American League West champion. It's done. A miserable 1-8 road trip leaves the Astros' breathing Oakland Athletics' exhaust fumes. If the A's improbably play just .500 ball, the Astros have to go undefeated the rest of the way to win the division. At 22-23 the Astros remain highly likely to make the playoffs, though only because of the expanded format attached to this 60 game season. With 15 games to play the Astros enter the weekend just two games ahead of Seattle for second in the AL West. After two with the Dodgers the Astros final 13 games are all vs. losing teams, three of those are at Seattle. Blowing a playoff spot to the Mariners would be an embarrassment. Barring that development, the Astros will still pose a very legitimate threat to any team they face in an AL playoff series. But that bullpen that if playing darts would often miss the dartboard entirely…

Buzzer Beaters:

1. We await resolution on the Danuel House story. If his denial of wrongdoing is as accurate as Morey's prognosticating appears right now, House was an immature and irresponsible chump of a teammate and professional. If is a very important word.

2. There probably will be an upset or at least a scare of one, but as matchups go there isn't one college football game worth watching Saturday.

3. Andy Reid is a great coach. As an athlete, he's a great coach (though he did play at BYU). Greatest athlete Andys: Bronze-Pettitte Silver-Murray Gold-Robustelli

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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