Upcoming Astros promotion serves as amazing sign of progress

All 30 teams will hold a similar vaccination event this month. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Get vaccinated at Minute Maid Park on June 15, and receive two free tickets to watch the Astros take on the Texas Rangers that night. Plus you'll get a free 2017 World Series championship ring. And to top it off, June 15 is a Tuesday, which means it's Dollar Dog Night. Batter up … eat up.

Houston doesn't get any better than that. OK, maybe it's a tossup with Washington State where they're giving free weed ("Joints for Jabs") to get people to roll up their sleeves. Or Ohio, where they're holding million-dollar lotteries for newly vaccinated people. In New York and Connecticut, they're using free beer as vaccination bait.

What a difference a few months make. Earlier this year, people were hovering over their computers like vultures, hopping on planes and dressing like grannies to secure a precious COVID vaccine shot. Now states must resort to bribing people with free baseball tickets, marijuana and alcohol. Recently I drove past the mega vaccine site at NRG Park. They didn't even charge for parking, a rarity, which probably made NRG Park officials sick to their stomachs. The place was empty. They can't give away the vaccine.

The Astros deal is part of MLB's "Vaccination at the Plate," where all 30 teams will hold a similar vaccination event this month.

No appointment will be necessary at Minute Maid Park. Just walk into the ballpark's Union Station between 5-8 p.m., roll up your sleeve, get the jab, and enjoy the game. If you can't make that night's game, you can opt for tickets to the upcoming series against the Baltimore Orioles June 28-30.

The Astros should be commended for hosting the vaccination event, even though they're under orders to do it by MLB. The truth is, the Astros have sent mixed signals about their support of COVID protocols since Day One of the 2021 season.

Before the season started, the Astros announced that they would abide by MLB's pandemic rules, including all fans must wear a face mask or be subject to ejection. On opening night in Houston, the Astros posted signs throughout the stadium and made several announcements about the mask mandate. Hosts of the radio pre-game show told fans that they would have to wear a mask at all times except when actively eating or drinking.

However none of that was enforced once the umpire yelled "Play Ball!" Practically nobody in the stands was wearing a mask. This was back in early April, when the pandemic still was wreaking havoc and Houston was in the red danger zone. On TV the center field camera, while no longer helping the Astros steal the opposing catcher's signs, certainly caught team owner Jim Crane and Astros Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio sitting in the Diamond Club section without masks. As one MLB.com veteran told me, "it wasn't a good look."

As the pandemic eases, MLB still "encourages" unvaccinated fans to wear masks during baseball games. It's the honor system at Minute Maid Park. Nobody's checking and practically nobody is covering up.

People are not considered "fully vaccinated" and protected against contracting COVID until two weeks after they receive two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Next week the Astros will invite fans to get their first or second vaccine shot, give them a free World Series replica ring and then have them sit next to people who may not be vaccinated and aren't wearing a mask. COVID is still risky business, this is no time to let our guard down.

When the Astros recently visited Buffalo to play the Toronto Blue Jays, the stadium was limited to 35-percent capacity with separate sections for vaccinated and unvaccinated fans. While that may sound extreme to 100-percent open Houston, at least Blue Jays fans were safe at home.

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Luis Garcia played his part in a pitcher's duel with Carlos Rodon on Friday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With an impressive offensive onslaught to overpower Chicago in game one of this series, the Astros entered this second of four games hoping to keep their momentum going. After an impressive pitcher's duel left the game tied late into the game, Houston would edge out the win with a big walk-off in the ninth.

Final Score: Astros 2, White Sox 1

Astros' Record: 41-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryan Pressly (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Garrett Crochet (2-3)

Garcia matches Rodon in a pitcher's duel

Both starting pitchers were very effective, save one inning, in their respective seven innings of work. For Luis Garcia, he had his struggles in the top of the first to start the game, allowing a one-out double and single to put runners on second and third, setting up an RBI single to give Chicago an early 1-0 lead.

He limited the damage to that one run, both in that inning and the rest of his night, as he would follow that with six straight scoreless frames. Once he found his groove in the fourth, he would retire 12 of 13 batters he faced over that span to get through seven one-run innings. His final line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 96 P.

For Houston, it took until one out into the fifth inning to get a hit and their first baserunner against Carlos Rodon. That sparked an opportunity to grab a lead, as they would go on to load the bases still with one out but would get just one run out of it with a two-out RBI walk by Martin Maldonado to tie the game up 1-1.

Astros walk it off in the ninth

Ryne Stanek was first out of Houston's bullpen in the top of the eighth, erasing a one-out walk for a scoreless inning to keep things gridlocked. Still in a stalemate in the top of the ninth, the Astros opted to bring in closer Ryan Pressly to try and keep it tied to set up a potential walk-off. He was perfect, striking out Chicago 1-2-3 to send it to the home half.

In the bottom of the ninth, Yuli Gurriel got the winning run on base by hitting a one-out single. That brought Yordan Alvarez to the plate, who got the walk-off hit, roping a ball into the right-field corner deep enough for Gurriel to hustle from first to home to win it for Houston, 2-1.

Up Next: Now having won five in a row, the Astros will try to lock up this series in game three of four on Saturday at 6:15 PM Central. Lance Lynn (7-2, 1.51 ERA) will try to get a win for the White Sox, while Framber Valdez (3-0, 1.42 ERA) will look to continue his 2021 success for Houston.

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