TIP OF THE CAP

How Houston Astros would do well to use Fox’s blueprint

How Houston Astros would do well to use Fox’s blueprint
The Astros could learn a thing or two from Fox's All-Star Game broadcast. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.
Next time you hear some Altuve slander, here’s the perfect response

Many times television falls flat when it tries to use technology to make games more enjoyable for viewers. For example, that camera angle where TV shows whether a checked swing should be called a strike … every one of them looks like the bat crosses the plate.

When TV interviews the manager for two minutes during the game, the manager says absolutely nothing worth hearing. It’s like they all went to the Craig Biggio School of Platitudes – “Framber is sharp tonight and we’re hoping he gives us seven good innings.”

Really? So you’re hoping Framber pitches well? Thanks for that.

Are baseball fans really interested in BABIP (batting average on balls in play), ERA+ (earned run average adjusted to reflect home ballpark and league environment), FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching, outcomes that have nothing to do with fielding), and ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average)?

Remember when Fox debuted its FoxTrak during hockey games, using glowing pucks that left a comet trail? That lasted only two seasons, from 1996 to 1998. Fun fact: NHL referees change the puck, on average, every three or four minutes. I didn’t know that.

But I must say, Fox did a brilliant job on baseball’s All-Star Game this week, especially mic’ing up pitchers and catchers. Fox has put a microphone on position players in the past, but this was the first time viewers got to eavesdrop on the dialog between battery mates, where real strategy and head games are played. Position players are reactive, they go where the ball goes. Pitchers and catchers dictate where the ball goes.

Fox wired the right pitchers and catchers, too. Toronto fireballer Alek Manoah let viewers share his excitement as he struck out William Contreras, Joc Pederson and Ronald Acuna Jr. in the second inning.

“Here we go, there’s one!”

“There’s two!”

“Right down the middle but we’ll take it. Three punchies! Let’s go!”

Major Leaguers call strikeouts “punchies?”

The conversation between pitchers Gerrit Cole in the AL dugout and Max Fried in the NL dugout was funny, agreeing that pitchers should never get in the batter’s box, although Cole proudly pointed out that he has three home runs in his career.

The dialog between Yankee pitcher Nestor Cortes and Yankee catcher Jose Trevino was fascinating, showing the trust between teammates. Maybe not what fans expected, Cortes was the one calling the pitchers.

“Backdoor cutter.”

“Heater up and in.”

Trevino mostly provided encouragement.

“What are you thinking?”

“Get it there!”

Fox’s telecast of the All-Star Game was so introspective and captivating, maybe, but probably not, MLB will allow local teams to put microphones on players so they can show off their personalities. Astros games already are entertaining, mic’ing up players would propel AT&T SportsNet Southwest into must-see (and hear) television.

Wouldn’t it be terrific to hear Geoff Blum, who’s got the balls to do it, asking Jose Altuve, “Whenever the camera is on you, you’re biting your nails … do you have any nails left? Are you chewing nubs by this point?”

Or Blum putting Justin Verlander on the spot, “Are you seriously considering leaving the Astros after this season? The Astros paid you $66 million over the past two years when you were sidelined with Tommy John surgery. Didn’t you hear Klay Thompson on the ESPYS expressing his gratitude to Warriors management for sticking by him when he was injured? Don’t you owe it to the Astros to stay?”

Here’s one I’d love to hear, put a microphone on manager Dusty Baker during a game. Ask him, “Why do you rest multiple players on the same day, especially at home when Houston fans are paying to see their favorite Astros? Why can’t you give players their days off on the road?

Last Friday, the first-place Astros were heavy -205 favorites to beat the last-place A’s at Minute Maid Park. Baker kept Altuve, Yuli Gurriel and Martin Maldonado on the bench. Gurriel is hitting nearly .300 during July, Maldy is hot, and Altuve is … well, Altuve, the most popular player on the team and greatest Astro ever.

The lowly A’s upset the Astros, 5-1. Who knows if the Astros would have won if those three had played, but their chances would have been better. Replacing Altuve in the lineup, Mauricio Dubon entered that game hitting .198, and went 1-4. Subbing for Gurriel, J.J. Matijevic was hitting .154 and went 0-2. Catcher Korey Lee went 0-3.

Beating the A’s counts just as much as beating the Yankees in the final standings. The Astros lost a game they could/should have won. And the hometown fans, some who were attending their one and only Astros game this season, didn’t get to watch Altuve. Not fair to the fans who matter most.

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Coogs beat the Sooners, 87-85. Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images.

Jamal Shead hit a short follow shot with 0.4 seconds left and No. 1 Houston beat Oklahoma 87-85 on Saturday night, giving coach Kelvin Sampson a victory over one of his former schools.

Shead missed a driving layup attempt, but corralled the rebound and put the Cougars back ahead after they blew a 15-point lead. Emanuel Sharp tipped away a desperation pass by Oklahoma’s Milos Uzan as time expired.

“The main thing (on the last shot) was to get it to the rim,” Sampson said. “We weren’t going to shoot anything outside of 5 feet. There were three ways to win that game — a whistle, make the shot or (grab) an offensive rebound and put it in — and we got the third one.”

Sampson credited the result to Houston’s “winning DNA. We had a lot of things go against us tonight. … We were just plugging the holes in the boat up.”

L.J. Cryer led Houston (26-3, 13-3 Big 12) with 23 points, making 5 of 9 3-pointers. J’Wan Roberts added 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting, and Shead scored 14 points. Houston shot 56.7% from the field and Oklahoma was at 52.7%.

Rivaldo Soares had 16 points for Oklahoma (19-10, 7-9). Le’Tre Darthard had 15 points, finishing 5 of 7 from 3-point range.

Sampson coached Oklahoma from 1994 to 2006 and ranks second in program history with 279 wins and first in winning percentage (.719). Before Saturday, he’d never coached against the Sooners, but Houston’s entry into the Big 12 for this basketball season provided that opportunity.

Sampson received a warm welcome as he entered the Lloyd Noble Arena court, with many fans applauding, cheering and standing. Just before player introductions, Sampson and his three assistants with Oklahoma ties — former players Hollis Price, Quannas White and Kellen Sampson, his son — were individually recognized with announcements and pictured on the video board.

“The memories that I will take from here are just amazing,” Kelvin Sampson said. “Oklahoma will always be home in a lot of ways.”

Houston made its first week this season at No. 1 a successful one, with two wins. The Cougars are a game ahead of No. 8 Iowa State in the conference standings with two games left in the regular season and remain in the conversation for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Houston has won eight of the last nine games it has played as the No. 1-ranked team and is 35-5 overall while atop the AP poll.

Oklahoma dropped its second game of the week against a top-10 opponent, having lost 58-45 at Iowa State on Wednesday night.

The Sooners pushed Houston to the limit. Houston led 67-52 with 12:01 left, but the Sooners methodically closed that gap and Javian McCollum’s layup with 11.8 seconds left tied it at 85. It came after a hustle play by Uzan, who tracked down a rebound off a missed free throw and threw it off the leg of Sharp, allowing it to carom out of bounds.

Oklahoma coach Porter Moser said the vibe in the Sooners’ locker room was “tough. It wasn’t like they were happy to be close. They’re hurting. That’s a good sign. … That’s the elite of the elite and we’ve got to find a way to win that. That’s my job.

“I thought they were resilient battling back. Houston made tough shots, open shots, good shots. They do a lot of good things … but I thought we did too. We played the best team in the country, but we fell short. The margin of error when you play a team that good is small.”

Godwin went 6 of 6 from the field and led Oklahoma with 17 points, missing only the one free throw in six attempts as well. He also had seven rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: Sampson surely appreciated the warm welcome from fans on his return to Oklahoma, but he’s undoubtedly glad to have the emotional game against the Sooners over with. Now he can push the Cougars to focus on finishing the regular season strong and prepare them for the postseason.

Oklahoma: A win over the nation’s No. 1 team might have pushed the Sooners up a line or two in NCAA tournament seeding, but the loss shouldn’t damage their postseason hopes too much. Oklahoma probably needs at least one win next week — at home against Cincinnati or at Texas — to stay comfortably off the NCAA bubble heading into the Big 12 Tournament.

UP NEXT:

Houston: At Central Florida on Wednesday night.

Oklahoma: Host Cincinnati on Tuesday night.

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