10 HARD-HITTING QUESTIONS FOR VANESSA RICHARDSON

Here’s an inside look at how the biggest interview of the year came about

Let's pull back the curtain on the Jeff Luhnow interview. Photo via: Vanessa Richardson/Facebook

Houston's biggest sports story of the week was Channel 2 sports reporter Vanessa Richardson's lengthy interview with banished Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who denied any responsibility or knowledge of the Astros cheating scandal. For almost a year, Luhnow had been the great white whale of "gets" for Houston media.

The next day, sports talk radio was consumed with reaction to the interview. One of the head scratchers was, why would Luhnow choose to bare his soul to a young local reporter who came to Houston only last year after covering news and sports for the NBC station in Cincinnati.

Here is the story behind the story: the anatomy of Vanessa Richardson's scoop.

1.Ken Hoffman: How did the interview come about? Did he approach you, or did you seek him out?

Vanessa Richardson: When Luhnow and (former Astros manager A.J.) Hinch were fired, every reporter in town, plus national reporters, wanted to talk to them. Understandably, neither wanted to talk for a while. I ended up asking Luhnow a few months ago, and he said he felt he was getting to the point where he might be ready, but had to get some things in order first. October ended up being the time he wanted to share his side of things. Once we had a date and time, I told my bosses about it and they wanted to make it a more professional, two-camera shoot.

2.KH: Since he wanted to wait until the Astros season was over, when did you do the interview?

VR: We did the interview the week before it aired. He didn't want to take the spotlight away from the Astros, which we were more than happy to accommodate. My bosses decided to turn it into a 30-minute special, which was great, but took a lot of work in one week.

3.KH: Do you get why some media veterans wonder how you got the Luhnow interview?

VR: I completely understand people wondering how I got this interview, since I haven't been in Houston that long. It's really simple; I met Jeff, his wife, and some of his extended family when I moved to Houston in 2019, and we kept in touch. They trusted me, but also allowed me to ask harder questions that probably weren't pleasant for him to reflect on, which I appreciated.

4.KH: Your interview on Channel 2 was a 30-minute special. On the station's website, the interview ran 37 minutes. How long were you in Luhnow's home?

VR: From setup to teardown, it was probably two hours.

5.KH: Did Luhnow set any conditions for the interview? Were any topics off limits?

VR: He did not control the questions, and allowed me to ask what I felt needed to be addressed.

6.KH: When you watched the finished interview, were there any questions you wished you had asked?

VR: As a reporter, if you don't look over and critique your interviews, you're doing yourself a disservice. There are two or three questions I wish I would have asked! But there are also Astros beat writers who hopped on local radio stations and acted like I threw Luhnow softball questions, which I disagree with.

7: What did you think of baseball commissioner Rob Manfred's response, where he shot down Luhnow's claim of innocence, and said Luhnow was guilty of an infraction and deserved punishment?

VR: I knew Rob Manfred would probably give a statement or comment to a network, which he did. He said there was more evidence, which was interesting to me. I think we all would like to have been a fly on the wall in that investigation.

8.KH: Were you surprised when it appeared that Luhnow was close to tears?

VR: I didn't expect Luhnow to get teary-eyed. It was definitely the most human side of him I think the public has seen. From what I could tell, he deeply cared about the Astros, which I don't think anyone would deny, and I know that part caught some people off guard.

9.KH: How much preparation did you do for the interview?

VR: I was excited to do the interview, and extremely thankful. I knew it would interest people, simply because it was the first time he would be talking about this. I also figured there would be questions why I got the interview, being I'm a young woman and relatively new to Houston. Although I had covered the scandal at length, I wanted to make sure I did proper research. I spent weeks delving into different articles and trying to get it right. Overall, the response was pretty positive.

10: KH: Did you come away believing his explanation of how things happened, or did you feel he was doing damage control?

VR: Everyone is asking me if I believe him, which I understand. My job was to do the interview, and try to be as fair as possible. It's up to baseball fans and viewers to decide what to think. Of course he wanted to share his side, who wouldn't? Whether or not people believe him is for each individual to decide.

Bonus question. Did Luhnow offer you any delicious snacks or refreshing beverages?

VR: Haha! He and his wife did offer me and the photographers water and whatever we needed. They were very welcoming.

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Houston drops the opener

Angels use big sixth inning to take opener from Astros

Houston's offense started hot, then went cold Monday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With a 2-1 series win under their belt to start this ten-game homestand, the Astros turned the page to a three-game set with the Angels on Monday night. Things started strong for Houston, building an early lead, but it would erode in the middle innings as the Angels would respond with a big sixth inning to take the opener.

Final Score: Angels 5, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 18-17, tied for second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Suarez (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Brandon Bielak (1-2)

Houston Builds an early lead

After a 1-2-3 top of the first by Luis Garcia, Houston would start the scoring in the bottom of the inning. Back-to-back walks set things off, setting up an RBI ground-rule double by Alex Bregman, giving them the 1-0 lead. Kyle Tucker lead the bottom of the second off with a double, then came around to score on an RBI single by Myles Straw, then Michael Brantley made it 3-0 with an RBI double later in the inning.

Los Angeles roars back to take the lead

Los Angeles trimmed the lead to two runs in the top of the fourth with an RBI double, but Houston was able to get that run back on another RBI by Straw in the bottom of the fifth. Things fell apart for Garcia in the top of the sixth, with back-to-back one-out solo homers trimming the lead to one run and ending his night there: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 92 P.

The Angels didn't stop there, getting two more runs to take the lead off of Brandon Bielak, who managed just one out while blowing the lead. Brooks Raley would enter to get the final out of the inning, then tried to keep the deficit at one run when he returned in the top of the seventh. It looked like things might unravel for him, allowing the first two batters to reach base on a walk and single, but he would battle back to strike out the next three straight to strand both.

Angels take the opener

Joe Smith took over in the top of the eighth, still 5-4, but would get two outs while allowing a double in his three batters before Houston moved on to Kent Emanuel, who finished the inning off. After another scoreless inning for Houston's offense, Emanuel remained in the game in the top of the ninth to keep a walk-off chance alive, and he would do so by erasing a walk to send the one-run game to the bottom half. The Astros wouldn't pull off a comeback, though, dropping the opener to Los Angeles.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be another 7:10 PM Central start on Tuesday night. It shapes up to be an exciting pitching matchup, with Lance McCullers Jr. (2-1, 3.58 ERA) for Houston going up against the two-way star Shohei Ohtani (1-0, 2.41 ERA) for Los Angeles.

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