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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After the Mariners came alive late in Monday's series opener to hand the Houston the loss and keep their playoff picture hanging in the balance, the Astros returned to T-Mobile Park on Tuesday to try and decrease their magic number. Here's how the middle game went:

Final Score: Astros 6, Mariners 1.

Record: 28-27, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Framber Valdez (5-3, 3.57 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Casey Sadler (1-2, 5.40 ERA).

Both teams trade first-inning runs

The Astros struck first in Tuesday's game, not waiting around until the ninth inning to get on the board. Instead, they jumped out to an immediate 1-0 lead after a two-out RBI-single by Kyle Tucker in the top of the first. The Mariners responded quickly, though, getting a leadoff single in the bottom of the inning before a two-out RBI-double of their own to tie it 1-1.

Astros score five in the sixth

The 1-1 score held all the way until the top of the sixth when the Astros would flip the script from the night prior, taking advantage of some mistakes by Seattle to put up a big inning. First, Michael Brantley started the inning with a solo go-ahead homer to make it 2-1. Then, Kyle Tucker would get his third hit of the night with one out before eventually scoring after a walk and two wild pitches, making it 3-2. With two walks to keep the inning alive and put some insurance runs on base, Martin Maldonado took advantage with a big three-run home run to extend the lead to 6-1.

Valdez finishes seven strong, Astros even series

After allowing the one run in the bottom of the first, Framber Valdez recovered and put together a solid outing on the mound. He allowed just five hits total, two of which came in the first, then back-to-back singles in the fourth and a single in the fifth, while otherwise keeping the Mariners at bay. He would end up completing seven innings of one-run baseball while striking out eight. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 0 HR, 108 P.

After Valdez, Enoli Paredes would take over in the bottom of the eighth, working around a leadoff single to get a scoreless inning to keep it 6-1. In the non-save situation, Josh James would come in for the bottom of the ninth and finish off the win for Houston.

Up Next: The finale and rubber game of this three-game set will start a bit earlier on Wednesday, with first pitch scheduled for 5:40 PM Central. The pitching matchup will be Nick Margevicius (1-3, 5.35 ERA) for the Mariners going against Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.90 ERA) for the Astros.

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