CHANGING OF THE GUARD?

Is the Texans' reign as kings of Houston sports coming to an end?

Is Bob McNair losing the city to the Astros? Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Fall of the Kingdom on Kirby

We are living in the midst of a regime change. An uprising has taken place, the ruling party is faltering, and some upstart rebels are storming the palace.

For 15 years now, the Texans have ruled the Houston sports landscape with unchecked power.  No matter their record or level of ineptitude they wore the crown because, well… this is Texas and they play football.  Maybe they didn’t fill the stadium every single week, especially in down years, but they were still the center of this city’s sports universe. So why am I speaking of them in the past tense?  The Astros, that’s why.

The Astros have shown us what a competent franchise looks like, finally bringing a major championship back to Houston for the first time in 22 years. Yes, they had some truly terrible seasons, but they had a plan throughout those rough times.  Now that the city knows what it’s like to have a winner the Texans’ seemingly unending leash has finally been yanked back.  What’s more is that the Astros are bursting with exciting, young, talented, and, most importantly, likable players.  I would argue the Texans have only two players that move the excitement needle, J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson, both of whom are lost for the year and it remains to be seen in what form they return. Without them it is abundantly clear that this Texans team is just like those 100 loss Astros teams – nameless, faceless, and talentless -  though with one key difference, unlike those Astros teams the Texans have no discernible plan.

 In years past I would block out time to watch the Texans almost every week, no matter how bad they were.  This year though I haven’t.  And no, it has nothing to do the off the field issues the NFL is dealing with.  I really couldn’t care less about the anthem or Kaepernick BS.  My interest in football itself isn’t the problem, I still watch other NFL games, I just haven’t watched much of the Texans.  I watched a few games with Deshaun Watson and found him to be genuinely exciting but since his injury the most I watched of this team is about five minutes on Monday night before I turned on the Xbox to play Madden (again this isn’t an issue with football).  The World Series has played a huge role in the waning of Texans interest, and I don’t think I am the only one who feels this way.  After a month of riding the emotional roller coaster that was the playoffs with a team that was genuinely likable I just don’t see the point in devoting time or interest to yet another crap Texans team that simply isn’t.  Additionally, it feels as though the Astros fully embraced their role in the city’s recovery from Harvey and, notwithstanding the fantastic things J.J. Watt has done as an individual, the Texans as an organization have just carried on with business as usual (including getting blown out at home by the Jaguars in what was supposed to be their “we got you Houston” game).

With their success and youth the Astros have begun to both cultivate their own generation of young fans and re-convert old ones all while the Texans continue to give theirs little reason to care.  If this really is just the beginning of Astros’ success, as many believe it to be, this orange-clad rebel band will soon snatch the Houston sports crown from NRG, and once again make Houston a baseball town as it was in the '90s and early 2000s.   For the sake of sports in this city I hope this is the case.  Bob McNair and the Texans need a kick in the ass, need to be knocked down a peg, and need to be shown that just because they play football they don’t get a pass when it comes to doing what’s necessary to win, or even just to be interesting.

(And I didn't even mentioned the Rockets).

 

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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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