WATT A LOSS

J.J. Watt announces his release from Texans in heartfelt video

So Watt's next? Composite image by Jack Brame.

It was the news Houston Texans fans have been dreading. And so, it came from the hometown hero himself.

"I have sat down with the McNair family and I have asked them for my release and we have mutually agreed to part ways at this time," J.J. Watt announced in a Twitter video on February 12.

Appearing in what appears to be his home or his getaway cabin, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and face of the team since 2011 described being "a kid from Wisconsin who had never been to Texas before.

Sporting a white cap and University of Wisconsin sweatshirt, he joked about being booed by Texans fans on draft night in 2011, but "...every day after that you've treated me like family and I truly feel like your family," he added.

Watt then said that he worked every day to earn fans' respect and make them proud on and off the field. "You guys have given me everything and more and I can only hope you feel like I've given you everything I have."

The future Hall of Famer expressed his love for this "unbelievable" city, noting that this is where he met his wife (soccer star Kealia Ohai) and made lifelong friends and teammates. He praised teammates, the front office, and the most humble of team staff.

He also gave a shout out to fans who would stop him everywhere, even those showing up at his house. "The connection is special," Watt said, adding that he would "never ever" take it for granted.

So Watt's next? The superstar said he was "excited and looking forward to a new opportunity," but added that it is "tough to move on." He thanked the team, McNair and family, adding a warm, "thank you Houston, I love you."

Watt is one of only three players in NFL history to win at least three AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards, in 2012, 2014, and 2015. He leads the league in tackles for loss (172), quarterback hits (281), multi-sack games (26) and sack yards (713.5), while ranking second in sacks (101.0). In 2020, Watt, who led the NFL in sacks twice (2012 and 2015), became the fourth-fastest player in NFL history to total 100.0 sacks, doing so in just his 120th career game, per team stats.

Famously in 2017, he raised a massive $41 million in Hurricane Harvey relief aid.

"Simply put, there has been no person in the past decade who has made a greater impact on the Texans organization than J.J. Watt," said co-founder and senior chair Janice S. McNair, in a statement.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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