ROCKET LAUNCH?

Iconic Houston broadcaster hints at jarring changes to playoff presentation

Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images.

Nothing is decided, and maybe won't be announced for weeks, but a pretty likely scenario has NBA teams holding training camp 2.0 starting next month in each home city, then everybody moving to Orlando for more practice and scrimmages, before concluding the regular season, and heading to a 16-team playoff format. Every game will be played without fans at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. Teams will be re-seeded for the playoffs by their regular season record regardless of conference.

If the playoffs started today, the Houston Rockets (seeded 10th) would open against the Utah Jazz (seeded 7th).

How will this play with Rockets fans? More important, on what channel?

"The games will be played in hermetically sealed arenas at Disney, and Rockets games will air on AT&T SportsNet Southwest. I hope we can get back to playing games sometime in July. They will send a blank (silent) feed to us in our Houston studio, and the local broadcasters will call the game," said play-by-play man Bill Worrell, who amazingly is entering his fifth decade calling Rockets games on TV.

With the league in a quarantine bubble at Disney, teams will be allowed to bring only players, coaches, and a limited number of family members and staff. Not making the cut: TV and radio announcers, Clutch the Bear, Power Dancers, Red Rowdies and those guys scalping tickets outside Toyota Center.

"We will get to work some regular-season games (along with ESPN and TNT) and first round of the playoffs. It won't be as exciting without fans, but we are playing with the idea of piping in some crowd noise to keep you from hearing basketballs hit the court in an empty arena," Worrell said.

Piping in crowd noise also will keep viewers from hearing players letting fly with some pretty rough language. Either that, or there will be a seven-second delay with a designated bleep button pusher.

This won't be the first time that Worrell has announced games from hundreds, even thousands of miles of social distance.

"We did a couple of games played in China last trip, and the quality in our Houston studio was excellent. I have done remote telecasts on several occasions while working for Home Sports Entertainment (HSE), Fox Sports and AT&T SportsNet, especially for European tour golf matches and gymnastics events."

Fun facts about Worrell. He grew up in Houston, went to Lamar High School on Westheimer and graduated from the University of Houston, where he made the baseball team as a lefty pitcher. He was the sports anchor on Channel 2 from 1974 to 1980, when he joined ESPN and began announcing Rockets games for the Houston market. The most fun fact: his father "Dub" Worrell was the Rockets team dentist and is credited with convincing Houston pro athletes to wear mouthguards.

Announcing live sports events from a remote studio isn't Worrell's first choice, but it's not anything unusual in sports. The Tennis Channel often covers smaller European and Asian tournaments from its home base in Culver City, Calif. Yet somehow the announcers always make themselves available for Wimbledon in London and the French Open in Paris.

"Sweetening" the sound of sports broadcasts by adding fake crowd noise isn't a new trick, either. Pro wrestling regularly pipes in pre-recorded hoots and hollers, especially when an uncooperative crowd is jeering a good guy wrestler and cheering a villain. Wrestling fans, you can't trust 'em.

Adding fake crowd noise and announcing "live" games from distant studios harkens back to the beginning of sports broadcasting. In prehistoric days, before televised sports killed the radio star, baseball announcers "recreated" away games on radio without hitting the road themselves. Here's how they did it.

Home team announcers would sit in a studio and read bare bones reports from the away stadium, sent by a stats person over a teletype machine (think fax machine with bells and typewriter chatter). The reports would simply read, "Smith K" (for strikeout) or "Johnson FO left" (fly ball out to leftfield). It was left to the announcers to make games interesting by imagining out loud what was taking place on the field. A studio engineer would play crowd noise, recorded from a recent home game, raising or lowering the volume depending on whether the teletype indicated ground ball or home run. The sound of bat hitting baseball was recreated by striking a large pencil or toy bat against a wood block.

Creative announcers were so skilled at embellishing games from a simple scorecard that fans huddled around a radio in their living room couldn't tell the difference between home and road play-by-play.

Of course, Worrell and his AT&T SportsNet partners will have the advantage of watching a silent feed of Rockets games in real time. Or seven seconds later if the trash talking turns blue. We're looking at you, Russell Westbrook.

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Houston gets the best of the Dodgers

Astros behind McCullers Jr. get shutout win in hostile Dodger Stadium

Yordan Alvarez added some big insurance runs against the Dodgers on Tuesday night. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Having dropped two of three in San Francisco against the league record-leading Giants over the weekend, the Astros exited an off day on Monday and entered a hostile environment at Dodger Stadium in the first of a two-game series on Tuesday night. With some timely hits and an excellent start from their starter, Houston would grab the win.

Final Score: Astros 3, Dodgers 0

Astros' Record: 65-42, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (9-2)

Losing Pitcher: Walker Buehler (11-2)

Houston scores first as McCullers Jr. out-duels Buehler

After nearly turning the game's very first pitch around for a home run but instead going foul, Jose Altuve still started the game with a single in the top of the first. A double play would erase him, though, as the game remained scoreless into the top of the third. Martin Maldonado led that inning off with a double, moved to third on a wild pitch by Walker Buehler, then scored on an RBI double by Michael Brantley, putting Houston ahead 1-0.

Houston threatened again in the top of the fourth, getting two on with two outs, bringing up Martin Maldonado with an empty base, which the Dodgers would use by intentionally walking him to get to Lance McCullers Jr., who grounded out to strand all three runners. He made up for it on the mound, though, out-dueling Buehler, who finished six innings while allowing a run by getting into the seventh scoreless. He would get two outs into that frame while giving up a single and a walk, leaving two on base for Blake Taylor, who came in to get the third out. McCullers Jr.'s final line: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, 110 P.

Alvarez adds insurance as Astros take the opener in LA

Clinging to the one-run lead in the top of the eighth, Carlos Correa worked a one-out walk to bring Yordan Alvarez to the plate, who demolished a 415-foot two-run homer to add two big insurance runs, extending the lead to 3-0. Kendall Graveman took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the eighth and, despite allowing a leadoff single and hitting a batter, was able to finish a scoreless inning.

With Ryan Pressly on the paternity list, Houston handed the ball to Ryne Stanek to close things out in the bottom of the ninth. He would get the job done, earning the save by retiring the Dodgers in order, giving the Astros the win at the dismay of the fans in Los Angeles.

Up Next: This short series's second and final game will begin thirty minutes earlier on Wednesday at 8:40 PM Central. For the Dodgers, they will get the debut of Max Scherzer (8-4, 2.76 ERA), while Jake Odorizzi (4-5, 4.30 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros.

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