ONE OF A KIND

Here are 5 reasons that Houston sports will never see an epic stretch like this again

Photos by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

You know, there's no need to curb your enthusiasm, this season of COVID-19 could turn out pretty, pretty, pretty good for sports fans, especially in Houston, where all three of our major pro teams could make deep playoff runs (don't let me down, Texans).

We won't be able to attend games in person, but between July 23 opening day of baseball and February 7 Super Bowl of football, there will be so many games on TV, in the words of Clark Griswold, we'll need plastic surgery to remove our smiles. With the perfect storm of baseball, basketball and football in full swing at once, there will be double, triple, quadruple and quintuple-headers on TV. Rocket Mortgage may have to open a division just for cable bills.

1. A 60-game baseball season

For years critics have said the baseball season is too long – 162 games is too many. Early games in April, May and June don't seem important. This year there'll be only 60 games, and they're not starting until late July, when baseball usually gets serious. If you crunch the numbers, each game will be 2-2/3 times more important than the "old normal." Note to MLB: I watched a couple of summer training games this week – the humdrum buzzing of pre-recorded, non-existent crowd noise in the background is annoying and very stupid. We can see there are no fans in the TV shot.

2. Rockets have already clinched a spot in the playoffs in July

Basketball should be long over, but now the NBA will play eight "seeding games" to complete the regular season and head straight to the playoffs. The Rockets already have a playoff spot clinched, no worries there. There will be tons of NBA on cable.

3. No meaningless Texans pre-season games

The NFL is planning to start and complete its season on time. It looks like teams may not play those boring, meaningless and worthless pre-season games. Well, worthless unless you're a season-ticket holder and the NFL makes you pay for those exhibition games. Especially in the case of Game 4 where you have as much chance of playing as J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson.

4. The viewing experience will remain strong despite no fans in the stands

We don't know how performing in front of empty seats will affect the players, but it won't be much different for ordinary fans. Pro sports are made-for-TV. Baseball tickets are still reasonably priced. Football tickets are still in the ballpark, but the games are sold out. Rockets tickets are crazy expensive, except for a couple of sections next to the drum-banging Red Rowdies. We're fine watching at home. Houston announcers are excellent.

In a related stock tip: since COVID-19 has closed many restaurants' dining rooms, we've grown accustomed to cooking at home. And by cooking at home, I mean drive-through lanes, take-out and delivery. Domino's stock is $391 a share – up 33 percent so far this year, and it's not even football season. I watched one of those "business week in review" shows last week. The host said "Cheetos and Lay's potato chip sales are booming."

"COVID 15?" I'll take the over. Good thing you were smart this time and didn't throw out your old "fat clothes."

5. You will be able to watch NBA, MLB, and NFL games on any given night

Let's take October: on any given day, we'll get to pick from several baseball playoff games, same with the NBA. Every NFL game is a big deal. We could get 10 games on Sunday. Not to mention college football and basketball and that game played on ice that Charlie Pallilo can't stop yapping about.

Realistically, every sport is skating on thin ice this year. A couple of coughs and a few 102-degree fevers could shut down a team faster than the fire marshal telling a strip club "no, you're not a restaurant, tell Destiny and Cinnamon to get dressed and go home."

It looks like the NBA is a go, the protective bubble in Orlando is working. The league tested 384 players and personnel for coronavirus this week with no positives. Baseball and football are not operating in a bubble, however. Players will come and go and live somewhat normal lives. They've been told to knock off risky behavior.

Fans will see things they've never seen, like batters hitting home runs while wearing Jesse James face masks. A 79-year-old, diminutive doctor will throw out the first pitch instead of the president in Washington and get a record-breaking standing ovation. Basketball players will arrive at arenas already dressed in their uniforms instead of those outfits Russell Westbrook wears and return to their hotels sweaty and un-showered. Note to James Harden: there are no 4 a.m. VIP rooms at Disney World.

We will survive this zany season of sports on TV without fans in the stands. The Blue Jays will wear "Toronto" on their jerseys, even though they're not allowed to step foot in Canada. The Astros will play only the American and National League West teams, so lots of late-night games on TV in Houston. One bonus: there'll be nobody to do the wave in Minute Maid Park.

According to an ESPN poll, 64 percent of fans appreciate sports now more than pre-COVID outbreak, and 78 percent of "avid sports fans" really, really miss sports. It's time to play ball. Is the pizza here yet?

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Yordan Alvarez came up big in Game 5. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Astros can win the pennant Friday night. Can't dangle the carrot any closer in front of the face than that. Taking the last two games at Fenway Park has the Astros in excellent position, but any notion that a third American League championship in five years is now inevitable, is silly. The Astros are probably 80 percent or better to advance, but of course the Red Sox could win games six and seven at Minute Maid Park à la the Nationals in the World Series two years ago. The Astros had all the momentum after winning three straight in D.C., came home for the coronation, and pfffft. You have momentum...until you don't. It's nothing to bank on. The Red Sox had all the "mo" after clobbering the Astros in games two and three of this AL championship series. Then Jose Altuve crushed the eighth inning tying home run in game four, ahead of the seven run volcanic eruption of a ninth inning. Nine more Astro runs later in game five, and here we are.

One key distinction that makes the Astros hand look stronger up 3-2 now than vs. the Nats, the Red Sox don't have Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer ready to pitch. Like Framber Valdez vs. Chris Sale in game five, game six is another starting pitching rematch. Alvin native Nathan Eovaldi grossly outpitched Luis Garcia in game two. We'll see if Sox manager Alex Cora winds up regretting even more using Eovaldi to start the fateful game four ninth inning. Eovaldi only threw 24 pitches, but three nights later we'll see what and how much he has in the tank.

After pitching horribly against the White Sox and then the Red Sox, and then citing a sore knee, Luis Garcia is his own huge question mark. So was Valdez before Wednesday spinning one of the great postseason pitching performances in Astros' history. Framber was awful in each of his first two postseason starts, absolutely magnificent in cruising through eight innings in game five. Should the Sox force Game Seven, Valdez certainly is a relief option on two days rest. Jose Urquidy would start, opposite Eduardo Rodriguez in a game three rematch.

Valdez and the Astros hope his next outing is Tuesday night in game one of the World Series. Ideally, at Minute Maid Park against the Atlanta Braves. Alas, the defending champion Dodgers remain alive and kicking, having won their fourth do or die game already in this postseason to send the National League Championship Series back to Atlanta. Now, if somehow we knew as fact that the Astros are going to win the World Series, I'd estimate approximately 99 percent of Astros' fans would prefer to beat L.A. Since we don't know that the Astros are going to win it all, getting the Braves would be more favorable for the Astros, if for no other reason than the Astros would get home-field advantage. Should the Braves make it, among other factoids Charlie Morton would be in his third World Series with three different teams in the last five seasons (Astros in 2017, Rays last year, Braves this). If the Braves can close out the Dodgers Saturday, Morton is Atlanta's likely game one starter at MMP. Provided the Astros are the AL Champs of course.

Watt a matchup for the Texans

The Texans play at Arizona Sunday. Yeah, and? You imagine that J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins find the two team's current situations amusing? The Texans are a 1-5 stink bomb that will keep on stinking. The Cardinals are 6-0 and an emerging Super Bowl contender. While Deshaun Watson continues collecting about 600 thousand dollars per week to do nothing (and waiting to become a Miami Dolphin?), Kyler Murray has made the leap to upper echelon NFL quarterback.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Decisions, decisions. Astros-Red Sox game 6 or Rockets home opener vs. Thunder. Tough call?

2. The Rockets will regularly be overmatched and probably lose 55 games or more again this season. At least they have young talent to offer some hope. The Texans presently have near nothing.

3. Best 2021 Astros' postseason journey signature food: Bronze-Atlanta/Los Angeles, anything? Silver-Chicago, deep dish pizza Gold-Boston, lobster roll

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