BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT

How this new documentary could tilt some Houston fans' perspectives

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Just when you thought time and a worldwide pandemic would help everybody forget thinking of the Houston Astros as evil, conniving cheaters … along comes a furloughed LeBron James to produce a documentary, Last Dance-style, about the Astros 2017 sign-stealing scandal. The multi-part series will be called Sign Language, due for the streaming service Quibi. No date yet when the expose will be ready, but fans in New York and Los Angeles already are calling Pizza Hut and getting comfortable on their couches.

What's left about the Astros descent into infamy that we don't already know? According to a press release in Sports Illustrated, Sign Language will "transcend the baseball diamond to explore larger themes of greed, cheating, corruption, sportsmanship and social media activism." And you thought it was just wayward ballplayers whacking a garbage can? Nope, it was a mirror of society, a study of the human condition.

Or when a breaking pitch was coming. Remind me again, what baseball team does LeBron James root for? Punch up a photo of LeBron wearing his Yankees cap.

Sign Language may be a blunt awakening for Astros fans in Houston. I read the local paper and listen to talk radio. Here many fans believe the real villain in the scandal is Mike Fiers, who ratted out the Astros two years after he accepted his World Series ring and prize money and moved to another team. Here's what the other 29/30ths of the baseball world thinks. The Astros cheated and got caught. They admitted that they cheated and promised never to do it again. Why are you mad at Mike Fiers? You should be mad at the Astros.

Everywhere else, fans can't believe that the Astros got off so lightly, with only their manager and general manager suspended for a season, loss of draft picks and a $5 million fine. That's pocket change for Astros owner Jim Crane. Everywhere else, fans can't believe that no Astros player was suspended for a game, 50 games, a season or forever. You'll probably hear Yankees and Dodgers fans (and some players) say that the Astros disgraced the sport. A hundred years ago, eight Chicago White Sox players were banned for life for cheating in the World Series. The only difference between the Black Sox and the Astros … the Black Sox cheated to lose the World Series, the Astros cheated to win the World Series. If cheating is cheating, what's the difference?

The best part of Sign Language, will come after the documentary airs, when LeBron James and the Lakers come to Houston to play the Rockets. Shhh, if you listen real close, you can already hear the booing.


A Giant surprise

I have no problem with fakes and phonies, in fact I see it as an art form. But even I'm appalled by the Masked Singer on Fox. Here's a typical last five minutes of the show. The panelists offer their guesses who's inside the cockroach costume. Jenny McCarthy will say, "It's Bruce Springsteen!" Nicole Scherzinger will say, "It's got to be Drake!" Ken Jeong will guess "Mick Jagger!" The audience will chant "Take it off," and the mystery celebrity will be revealed … it's Jake from State Farm. Meanwhile, the panelists lose their minds, they can't believe that the Masked Singer landed such a superstar. And it's not even the new, cool-looking Jake from State Farm. They got the old pudgy one.

Last week, it was time for the Rhino to be unmasked. Among the panel's guesses: Sam Hunt, Trace Adkins, David Hasselhoff, Tim Tebow and country superstar Jason Aldean. One panelist, and I'm not kidding, thought it was Blake Shelton.

Yeah, it's Blake Shelton, one of the most popular and highest-paid entertainers in the world, the star of NBC's The Voice, is sweating in a Halloween costume on a silly game show on a rival network.

The Rhino slowly twisted and turned his mask. It was Barry Zito, the former San Francisco Giants lefty pitcher, who retired five years ago. The panelists jumped from their seats with orgasmic glee. For real? I'm not accusing Fox sneaking the identity of the mystery singers to the panelists, or instructing them to pretend they recognize – or ever heard of – Barry Zito. I have trouble believing that former Pussycat Dolls singer Scherzinger could take one look at a sweaty Barry Zito with his hair plastered down and know who that person is. She gave him the "I love you" sign. She must have been a big fan of his 65-mph slow curveball.

I have been a Giants fan my whole life. I couldn't pick Barry Zito out of a police lineup. Jenny McCarthy knew that Zito wore No. 75 and won the Cy Young Award? I doubt if Giants catcher Buster Posey could tell you what number Zito wore.


Last respects

Off the sports beat, three very, very funny actors died recently: Fred Willard, who played insane dog show announcer Buck Laughlin in Best in Show; Jerry Stiller, who played Frank Costanza in Seinfeld; and Ken Osmond, who played smart aleck Eddie Haskell in Leave it to Beaver. Here are my favorite lines from each:

Buck Laughlin - I don't think I could ever get used to being poked and prodded. I told my proctologist one time, "Why don't you ever take me out to dinner and a movie sometime?"

Frank Costanza - The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I've got a lot of problems with you people, and now you're gonna hear about it.

Eddie Haskell – Wally, if your dumb brother tags along, I'm gonna … oh, good afternoon Mrs. Cleaver. I was just telling Wallace how pleasant it would be for Theodore to accompany us to the movies.

I went through the drive-through at Chick-fil-A one morning this week. They've got new home kits for chicken parm sandwiches! One question, Chick-fil-A, have you been reading my diary?

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After rallying in the ninth inning in Game 1 to take the pivotal opener of this best-of-three ALWC series, the Astros were in the driver's seat to try and end the series on Wednesday with another win at Target Field. Here is a quick rundown of Game 2:

Final Score: Astros 3, Twins 1.

Series: HOU Wins 2-0.

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier.

Losing Pitcher: Cody Stashak.

Houston gets the first hit and first run in the fourth

Through the first three innings, neither team could get a hit off of Jose Berrios or Jose Urquidy, though the Twins did load the bases in the bottom of the first on two walks and an error, but Urquidy would strand the runners before getting 1-2-3 innings in the second and third.

Meanwhile, the Astros lineup was retired in order in three perfect innings by Berrios. That changed in the top of the fourth when Houston would get back-to-back two-out walks to set up the first hit of the game, an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker to give the Astros a 1-0 lead.

Dusty Baker makes another early call to the bullpen before Twins tie it up

Urquidy was able to keep the 1-0 lead by working around a two-out single in the bottom of the fourth, the first hit for the Twins. He returned in the fifth, allowing a leadoff single before a strikeout for the first out. Dusty Baker would pull another early hook, like Greinke the day prior, dipping into his bullpen early to end Urquidy's day at just 76 pitches in the fifth. His final line: 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 76 P.

Brooks Raley was who Baker called on to face the top of the Twins' lineup. He would walk his first batter, putting runners on first and second, get a strikeout for the second out, then allow an RBI-double to Nelson Cruz that almost scored a second, go-ahead run. Instead, the runner was out at home thanks to a terrific defensive play by Carlos Correa, bulleting the ball to Maldonado at home, who made a great tag to save the run and keep it tied 1-1.

Correa homers, Astros advance to ALDS

After Raley completed the fifth inning for Urquidy, Cristian Javier was the next reliever out to begin the bottom of the sixth. He would toss a 1-2-3 frame, sending the tie game to the seventh. In the top of the seventh, Carlos Correa broke the tie with a long, loud two-out solo home run to center-field, putting the Astros back in front 2-1.

Javier held on to the one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh by working around a leadoff walk, then returned for the eighth. He would get through it scoreless, despite allowing a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz, who would be pinch-ran for by the speedy Byron Buxton. After a strikeout for out number two, Javier would catch Buxton between first and second base in a rundown, getting the big final out of the inning.

Houston added insurance in the top of the ninth, getting two on base before an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, his second of the day to make it 3-1. That left things up to closer Ryan Pressly, making his first appearance of the postseason. He would notch the save, advancing the Astros to the ALDS for their fourth-straight year.

Up Next: The Astros will now have a few days off to travel to the west coast before starting their ALDS with the winner of the A's / White Sox ALWC series. Game 1 of their ALDS will be on Monday, October 5th, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, with start time TBD.

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