FALCON POINTS

Choke city again? Where an Astros loss to the Rays would rank among worst playoff failures of the 21st century

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The Astros face a surprising elimination game on Thursday against the Tamp Bay Rays. Those of you new to the Houston sports scene believe the Astros will win and move on to face the New York Yankees. Those of you who have been around for a long time have been here many times before, and you know how the story ends; with postseason disappointment. Houston as a city has perhaps more colossal sports postseason failures than any in the country. The 1983 Houston Cougars. The 1993 Oilers blowing a 35-3 lead. The 1998 Astros. The 1986 Astros. The 2005 Astros made it to the World Series, then were unceremoniously swept. Most recently, Chris Paul's injury for the Rockets while up 3-2 on the Golden State Warriors. Houston did not earn the "choke city" nickname by accident.

(Yeah, yeah, I know; don't you wish that evil on me, Ricky Bobby. They have not lost yet!).

Yes, I believe this Astros team is different and will move on to face a Yankees team in the ALDS - a series there would be no shame in losing - but falling in the first round to the wild-card Rays would not only top Houston failures, it would be among the five biggest collapses in American sports this century. Here is where they would rank among biggest failures since 2000:

1) 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa sports fans (all eight of you) hoping for a Rays upset are all too familiar with being on the other end, and they only have to go back as far as last year. The Lightning became just the second team to win 62 regular season games, took the President's Trophy for best record in the league and looked downright unbeatable. They had three players score 40-plus goals, and Nikita Kucherov had a ridiculous 128 points. Kucherov won the Hart trophy as MVP, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Vezina as best goalie. So like a certain regular season team in Houston, they dominated the regular season in both wins and awards. Then they promptly became the first President's Trophy winner to get SWEPT in the first round of the playoffs, losing to No. 8 seed Columbus in four games. They beat out Nos. 2 and 3 on this list, because at least those teams made it to the Finals/Super Bowl. Simply the biggest sports postseason failure of the 21st century.

2) 2015-16 Golden State Warriors 

The greatest regular season team in NBA history was being compared to the Michael Jordan juggernaut Bulls after beating that team's record for most wins. They cruised through their first two playoff series before falling behind Oklahoma City 3-1 and roaring back to win. They then went up 3-1 on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals, and were already being anointed as the greatest team ever. But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation; the Cavs rallied to win the series, bringing a long-awaited title to Cleveland. Lost in the fact that LeBron James and Kyrie Irving led the comeback is that the Warriors, seemingly unbeatable, choked in the Finals. Golden State has other titles, so it was mitigated somewhat, but it's hard not to rate this as one of the most disappointing postseason results ever. Upsets are rare in seven-game NBA series, and almost unheard of when a team is this dominant.

3) 2007 New England Patriots

The Pats were an unstoppable force all season, rolling to an 18-0 record heading into the Super Bowl against the New York Giants. We all know how that ended; the Giants rode an inspired defensive performance and David Tyree's miracle catch to the upset. Unlike the other sports, football is single elimination, and anything can happen in one game, as it did here. That is the only thing that keeps this one from the top two spots.

4) 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks looked like they were going to obliterate everyone in the postseason after going 67-15, taking the top seed in a loaded Western Conference. They were led by Dirk Nowitzki, who would win the MVP that season. They would also lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Golden State Warriors long before the Warriors became the juggernaut of the past few seasons. Having the best record that season was no joke; Phoenix won 61 games and the eventual champion Spurs won 58. Still, not getting out of the first round was a huge failure.

5) 2019 Houston Astros

If they lose Thursday, they probably move to No. 4 on the list. They won a ridiculous team-record 107 regular season games. They will have the top two players in the Cy Young voting. They might have the MVP in Alex Bregman. They have the Rookie of the Year in Yordan Alvarez. They have the best 1-2-3 starting pitching punch in baseball with Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zach Greinke. (Doesn't this sound a lot like the Lightning?) The Rays have maybe one player who could crack the Astros lineup, yet they have out pitched, outhit and outplayed the Astros through four games, and Houston needed two epic pitching performances just to stay alive. There would be no shame in losing to the Yankees or in the World Series. Only eight of the last 24 teams with the best regular season record actually won the World Series, But losing in the first round? Serious shame bell. Unlike the Lightning, however, at least they won't get swept.

The bottom line

The good news? All of the teams on this list except the Lightning won titles in other seasons, and all the Astros have to do is win Thursday and this spot goes back to someone else; perhaps the 2003-04 LA Lakers or 2001 Seattle Mariners. How about the 2019 Dodgers, who won 106 games and were bounced by Washington on Wednesday in Round 1? They might even beat out the Astros.

Virginia lost as a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament two years ago, but that's a one game upset and not quite the same.

Yeah, I get it. Baseball is a different animal, and "lesser" teams win all the time, especially in five-game series. The Rays are no joke and won 96 games themselves. But losing the series would be a major disappointment however you slice it.

So yes, a loss puts them on the short list, and Houston sports fans are all too familiar with results like that. It would be a typical Houston sports failure. The good news? In 2017 the Astros proved to be resilient and unlike other Houston teams en route to the World Series title. If they are again, then none of this will matter. If not? Welcome to the Choke City history books.

"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

- William Shakespeare

You might wonder why there is a puppy picture on a story about the Astros scandal. This little beauty is my Dalmatian, Dynamo. Why is she here? To distract you. To dazzle you. Who doesn't love a puppy picture? Who cares if it has anything to do with the story? She made you look.

And the point is...

Sadly, that is the role of the media these days. Please listen to my rant. Please click on my story. Who cares if the headline isn't accurate? None of that matters. Look at me! I need likes and retweets!

The Astros cheating scandal is the latest story to be overblown, overanalyzed and overexposed. Why? Page views. Ratings. A failing media.

Exploring every angle

None of that is meant to excuse the team. Let's be honest; the Astros cheated. They will be punished, and they should. Draft picks, fines, suspensions. All are possible, and whatever they get is probably warranted.

And that is where the story should end. But that is not what the world is about anymore. It has to be endlessly debated. Pictures of a laptop on a table become the Zapruder film. There HAS to be a conspiracy. Every detail has to be debated. Which side you come down on depends on your biases.

Stupid takes

Some have even said the Astros should be stripped of their World Series title. This isn't college. It's a dumb, look at me take. It will never happen. This is not Avengers: Endgame where you can enter the quantum realm and change the past. It is real life, where events can't be changed. Did the cheating help them win? Who knows? You still have to hit the ball, even if you know what is coming. And it did not make a difference for the Astros pitchers. And harkening back to the steroid era, how do you know the other teams did not do it too and just did not get caught?

The big argument about PEDs was "oh, look at the big numbers the hitters put up." But how do you know the pitchers weren't doing it, too? The same goes here.

Truth is, you don't know. Which is why results can't and shouldn't be changed. Period. To suggest it is just dumb.

More stupid takes

On the Astros fan side, the defenses are just as silly. "They did nothing wrong. Where is your proof? Why aren't there other players coming forward?"

As an aside, let's not leave out the great misleading phrases. "Due diligence." (In other words, we know this is a bad idea, but we want to sound like we know what we are doing). "Witch hunt." (Yes, I am guilty, but this is how I deflect it).

As another aside, if you find an actual witch on your hunt, let me know. I always wanted to meet one.

They cheated. Period. And they will be punished. But the point is not that at all. It's to find every possible angle to get people to read and react. To care more about something than we should, when there are far more important things we should be riled up about. But you are being told to care, so you will keep clicking. It's the new normal, where reporters make themselves the stories and insert themselves into it. And that's why they turn stories like this into major issues. For their own benefit.

Nothing new

This is just the latest media distraction. The Patriots deflated balls saga was the most overplayed, overanalyzed scandal in sports history. Why was it so important? Because hot takes, web sites and analysts told us so. Many hinted at even bigger conspiracies. Why? Because we are a society dazzled by puppies.

Just this past weekend, the entire Colin Kaepernick story was over reported from all sides. The NFL was just doing a PR move. He just wants to be a martyr.

The NFL's waiver was broken down word by word.

Over a guy who hasn't played in three years.

The reason? He gets page views and clicks. And ratings. We keep getting told how important every aspect of the story is to our lives. In truth, it's just another distraction, a false narrative created to keep us dazzled and up in arms. Do we really care about these things? And if we do, what the hell is wrong with us?

Just like the Astros scandal. Is it a bad look? Of course. Are they guilty? Sure looks like it. But punish them and let's move on. We get it. They banged trashed cans. But punishment is never enough. People have to post pictures that might be something. Videos that might be something. Emails that might be something. Add it all up and it doesn't make things any worse. It just creates talking points. And people wonder why so many people consider the media - and social media, as the lines are completely blurred - "fake news."

In the end...

It's not fake news. It's misguided attempts to to keep us coming back for more. And too many of us fall into the trap. We are too distracted by everyone telling us these things are so important that we keep clicking. It takes on a life of its own, and then any theory is possible. Any conspiracy is possible. So we keep reading and digging and we are immersed in it. Look at this! Click on me! In a few weeks the Astros will be the most evil organization that ever lived and should be disbanded. And some of you will believe it and buy in, because that's how distractions work. And once we are distracted? We can believe anything.

Hence the picture of Dynamo. To distract you. By the way, did you notice one of her spots looks like Mickey Mouse? Let the Disney conspiracy begin. We shall start our own tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.

And we all know what that signifies.

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