MAJOR CHANGES COMING

Here's why today will be the battle for Houston sports fans' souls

Winds of change? Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange

"These are the times that try men's souls."

Thomas Paine wrote those words in the winter of 1776 to spur on Continental Army patriots fighting for freedom against the British during the Revolutionary War.

Update: today is a day that tries Houston sports fans' souls.

George Springer, the possibly soon-to-be former Houston Astro is rated that No. 1 free agent on the market. Who wouldn't want a slugging centerfielder, a fan favorite, repeat All-Star and solid fielder who seems to get better each year and is still only 31? Springer reportedly doesn't want to return to the Astros. If so, there are plenty of teams willing and ready to cut Springer a nine-figure, long-term deal, even in this COVID penny-pinching season. George Chelston Springer III, even his name reeks of New England, grew up a Red Sox fan in Connecticut. If you close your eyes, you can see a Springer dinger sailing over the Green Monster. The Mets have a new owner, a bulging bank account and a spot in the outfield. Also in the running: the Phillies, Braves and Yankees. And don't think that new Tigers manager A.J. Hinch wouldn't love to stick it to his former employer and lure Springer to Detroit.

Meanwhile, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick are free agents, too. While Brantley might be convinced to stay in Houston, Reddick's a goner, and the Astros conceivably could lose their entire outfield. Not good.

Will the Texans make a deal at the deadline?

Today is the NFL's trade deadline, and while word from Kirby says no trades are likely, how would the Texans respond if a team offers a second-round pick for local hero J.J. Watt? Or a third-rounder for Whitney Mercilus? Or anything for anybody on the Texans' roster. The Texans are DOA and the cupboard, at least the top shelf, is bare for draft picks next year.

Losing Watt would be a heartbreaker for Texans' fans. He isn't just on the Mount Rushmore of beloved Houston athletes … Watt sits on top of the mountain. Houston fans might understand trading Watt to a Super Bowl contender, just so he has a chance for a ring. But that would be a distant second to watching Watt hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy in a Texans' uniform. There's a lot of tread on Watt's tires, but he's still only 31. One can hope.

Rockets rumor mill

The Houston Rockets, nothing new, are in a state of flux. The Rockets have a new coach, first-time Stephen Silas, a new general manager, first-timer Rafael Stone, and new executive vice-president of basketball operations, first-timer Eli Witus. Owner Tilman Fertitta now has his guys in place. Let's just say that Fertitta is hands-on.

A few years ago, I sat in the lobby of a Hilton Garden Inn in Tyler and had an interesting conversation with Fertitta. His son Blake was playing for Post Oak in a Little League tournament. I was in the West U rooting section for a different division tourney.

Post Oak played Pearland and Fertitta told me about a home run his son Blake hit that morning. It was a towering shot that soared over the fence and crashed the back window of the Pearland coach's car. The ball wound up in the car's cup holder. That's what you call adding insult to injury. "I've never seen anything like it," Tilman said.

Fertitta was an intense Little League dad. He rattled off the boys' statistics, knew everything about the other teams and generally was on top of every detail. He hasn't changed, just bigger toys to play with now.

There are rumors that the Rockets are shopping Russell Westbrook and every other player not named James Harden. And there are whispers about Harden, too.

Oh, and if all that weren't enough pins and needles for you, there's a little election happening today. Good luck making it to tomorrow.

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Yuli Gurriel had a monster night at the plate Friday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

Although they lost the series 2-1, the Astros ended their road trip with a nice win over the Yankees to head home on a positive note. On Friday, they welcomed in the Toronto Blue Jays and former teammate George Springer, currently on the IL, to start a three-game series and long homestand. They had an excellent night at the plate, along with a strong start from Jose Urquidy, cruising past the Blue Jays to take the opener.

Final Score: Astros 10, Blue Jays 4

Astros' Record: 17-15, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (3-2)

Losing Pitcher: Ross Stripling (0-2)

Jays strike first, then Houston responds and never looks back

It first appeared that Urquidy may be in for a long night, giving up two solo home runs early in Friday's game, one to Bo Bichette in the top of the first with one out to put Toronto up 1-0, then another to Danny Jansen in the top of the third. However, Urquidy would lock-in, and his offense would back him up strongly.

Houston ended up sending nine batters to the plate in the bottom of the second, getting two runs on a homer by Carlos Correa, then later loading the bases to set up an RBI walk by Alex Bregman. In the bottom of the fifth, with a one-run lead at 3-2, Yuli Gurriel expanded the lead to three runs on a two-run shot.

Gurriel went on to have a fantastic night, going 4-for-4 at the plate with 4 RBI. His third of those came in the bottom of the seventh, extending the lead again with an RBI single to make it 6-2. Kyle Tucker made it a five-run game that same inning with an RBI double, then more insurance came in the bottom of the eighth. They reached double-digits that inning, with Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Yuli Gurriel, his fourth of the night, all getting an RBI to make it 10-2.

Urquidy finishes seven, then Emanuel finishes it off

Those gave Urquidy plenty of support, though he would bounce back after the two early homers and have a nice night on the mound. He allowed just two other hits, working around both, en route to a seven-inning two-run performance to earn him the win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 HR, 84 P.

He likely could have gone longer, but Dusty Baker turned the ball over to Kent Emanuel to wrap things up with the significant lead. He did so, despite allowing a two-run home run to former-Astro Teoscor Hernandez in the top of the ninth to make the score 10-4. The win kept the Astros above .500 and two games back of the A's, who sit atop the AL West standings.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be a 6:10 PM start Saturday night. The pitching matchup will be Steven Matz (4-2, 4.78 ERA) for Toronto and the electric Cristian Javier (3-0, 1.75 ERA) for Houston.

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