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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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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