10 QUESTIONS FOR JULIA MORALES

Ken Hoffman pitches 10 hard-hitting questions to Astros reporter Julia Morales

Photo via: Julia Morales

The 2020 baseball season will be different for Houston Astros color announcer Julia Morales, too. Join the club. The veteran Astros announcer, host of Astros Bases Loaded and former Pom at the University of Texas won't be able to interact with fans - there won't be any. She won't be able to hang out near the Astros dugout - MLB health and safety rules. She won't be able to do, well, many of the things that have made her a popular figure on ATT SportsNet Southwest telecasts of Astros games.

Entering her eighth season with the Astros broadcast team, Morales isn't complaining, not at all. She's just happy to be back in Minute Maid Park talkin' baseball with fellow announcers Todd Kalas (when he kicks COVID-19), Geoff Blum and the viewers at home. I caught up with Morales for 10 hard-hitting questions after the Astros whupped up on the Seattle Mariners during the season's opening series.

1. SportsMap: I've seen you walk by the stands before a game and talk with tons of fans, especially little girls. How much are you going to miss that this season?

Julia Morales: It's what I'm missing the most. There are so many regulars at Houston Astros games that they have become a second family for me. The ballpark is the happiest place on Earth (shh, don't tell Disney World). When you're here there is a different energy and vibe, and I feed off that every day. I walked out to the Crawford Boxes minutes before first pitch on Opening Day and it really hit me hard that the concourse wasn't packed and buzzing so loud you can barely hear yourself think. I'm really hoping we can all be back together sooner rather than later.

2. SM: How will your role on game broadcasts be different this year?

JM: How I gather information for the broadcast is completely different as we are relying on Zoom calls with players and coaches, and my walkoff interviews are now done from the visiting booth. We are missing the 1-on-1 time we usually get with different people in the organization to ask questions, confirm things and get ideas. The broadcast will be very similar to what fans have seen before. TK, Blummer and I will continue to call the games and bring you stories of your favorite players.

3. SM: Will you be wearing a mask during games? Will you guys be social-distancing in the broadcast booth?

JM: I have my own booth, haha! Gary Pettis called me a diva the second he saw me in my booth from the field. It is extremely safe at the ballpark. Sanitizing stations are everywhere and a camera is set up before I arrive. All I have to do is spin around and flip on a light to be ready for on-camera appearances. If we are not on the air, we must all wear masks in the booths and everywhere else inside of the ballpark. I'm learning disposable masks are going to work best after covering the inside of mine with TV makeup every day. Lipstick on the nose isn't a great look for television.

4. SM: Have you struck up a professional relationship with Dusty Baker like you had with A.J. Hinch?

JM: I was able to get to know Dusty a little bit in spring training before we were all sent home. He's been great and extremely entertaining. So many one-liners. We are going to have exclusive time with him each Friday when we hope to hear some of his many stories.

5. SM: The Astros announcers won't be traveling with the team on road trips. Which cities will you miss the most?

JM: I hope that Seattle and San Francisco know how much I miss them. We are spoiled to be able to cover a team in the AL West with some of the best cities to visit during the hottest days Houston has to offer. A 10-day trip to Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim in the middle of July is sorely missed. My morning runs are in crisp cool air, no humidity. See what I mean?

6. SM: Will fans watching at home be able to tell a difference between normal games and this year's games?

JM: I was watching exhibition games before we started and could definitely tell a big difference with the crowd noise MLB is mandating across the league. I think Kevin Eschenfelder (filling in for Kalas) and Geoff Blum have done a great job without the roar of the crowd we're used to feeding off at the ballpark. It will get interesting when we're calling road games from the studio. Calling a game across the country off monitors in a studio while being socially distant will be new for all of us.

7. SM: Will you be able to do personal interviews and features like years past?

JM: We will continue to have opportunities to talk to players and coaches whether it's on the headset or a separate Zoom call along with the Zoom interviews that are held daily for the media.

8. SM: You recently announced that you're having a baby - will that affect anything this season?

JM: Are due dates accurate? Baby girl is due September 28, the day after the regular season ends. As we are rounding third in this pregnancy, it will all be up to her and the health of us. Until then I will be calling Astros games!

9. SM: Since you'll be at Minute Maid Park for games, will you be tested for coronavirus every day?

JM: I am considered a member of the media, Tier 3, which means we have restricted access. I will not be tested like those who are in close contact with the team.

10. SM: Can you believe this is happening?

JM: I can't believe I got sent home from spring training. I can't believe we didn't have a baseball game in April. I can't believe they figured out how to get a season started. But we are here and I am so glad to be back doing what I love.

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With the disappointing loss in extra innings late the night before, the Astros returned to RingCentral Coliseum on Saturday afternoon to try and even the series against the A's, who now owned a 3.5 game lead in the AL West over Houston. Here is a quick rundown of the middle game of the series:

Final Score: A's 3, Astros 1.

Record: 6-8, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Frankie Montas (2-1, 1.57 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Framber Valdez (0-2, 2.04 ERA).

Valdez does his job

Framber Valdez ran into stress early on Saturday, facing trouble in the bottom of the first inning. It started with a leadoff solo home run, putting Oakland up 1-0 before they would record an out. He later allowed back-to-back one-out singles to rack up his pitch count in the frame but would limit the damage to the single run.

He was able to re-focus and settle in during the following innings, getting quick, scoreless innings in the next four. In the bottom of the sixth, a leadoff groundball that likely should have been the first out was instead a single that would come back to bite Houston. That runner stole second and advanced to third on a bad throw, then scored on an RBI-groundout, doubling Oakland's lead to 2-0. Valdez would go one more inning, giving Houston precisely what they needed by helping give their exhausted bullpen a break. His final line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 1 HR.

Houston's offense unable to get anything going

Unfortunately for Houston, Frankie Montas was even more efficient on the other side. Houston was only able to notch two hits against him over seven innings while Montas only had to throw 86 pitches over that span. Oakland would go to their bullpen in the top of the eighth, with the Astros getting just a single in the inning.

Nivaldo Rodriguez would take over for Valdez in the bottom of the eighth and allowed a solo home run to make it 3-0 before completing the inning. Houston would get a leadoff double by Kyle Tucker to start the top of the ninth, and he would come around to score on an RBI-single by Alex Bregman. That's as close as Houston would get, though, as Oakland would finish off the win to secure the series and extend Houston's losing streak to four games.

Up Next: The final game of this series and Houston's nine-game road trip will be on Sunday at 3:10 PM Central. Jesus Luzardo (0-0, 2.31 ERA) will make a start for the A's while Cristian Javier (1-0, 1.42 ERA) will look to continue his success in 2020 for the Astros.

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