Houston gets back in the win column

Kyle Tucker's big night helps fuel Astros to win over Angels

Photo by Rich Schultz / Getty Images

After a tense two-game series against the Dodgers in Houston earlier in the week, the Astros made their first trip on the road, starting with the opener of a three-game series against the Angels in Los Angeles on Friday night. Here is how that game went:

Final Score: Astros 9, Angels 6.

Record: 4-3, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Brandon Bielak (2-0, 1.69 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Matt Andriese (0-1, 4.91 ERA).

Astros jump in front with big second inning

After a scoreless first inning, the Astros had their first chance at runs in the top of the second. They loaded the bases with one out, and Kyle Tucker would drive in two with a two-RBI double to put Houston out front 2-0. Still with one out, George Springer came to the plate with the bases loaded again and was able to work a walk to bring in another run. Jose Altuve followed, and he beat out a double-play to drive in another, extending the lead to 4-0.

Both teams go back and forth, ending McCullers Jr's night at after four innings

After getting through the first two innings scoreless, Lance McCullers Jr. ran into trouble in the bottom of the third, giving up a walk and single to set up an RBI-single to get the Angels on the board. Los Angeles would load the bases with two outs, but McCullers Jr. would get out of the jam with a strikeout to end the inning.

Kyle Tucker helped get the lead back to four runs at 5-1 in the top of the fourth, getting a leadoff single, stealing second, moving to third on a wild pitch, then scoring on an RBI sac fly by George Springer. However, the Angels answered right back with a big inning in the bottom half, getting an RBI-double and two-run homer off of McCullers Jr. to cut the lead to 5-4. He would finish the inning, but at 91 pitches, that would be the end of his night, making his final line: 4.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 6 K, 1 HR.

Both teams go back and forth, but Houston holds on

Alex Bregman led off the top of the fifth with a double, moved to third on a Michael Brantley single, then scored on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel to make it a 6-4 lead. Brandon Bielak, who made a great debut against Seattle on Monday, was first out of the bullpen in the bottom of the fifth and worked around two walks for a scoreless inning.

He returned for another scoreless frame in the sixth, then the Astros added to their lead in the top of the seventh, loading the bases to set up a two-RBI single by Kyle Tucker, bringing his total to four on the night and expanding the advantage to 8-4. Bryan Abreu took over on the mound in the bottom of the seventh but would face only three batters, getting a strikeout while walking two. Enoli Paredes would finish the inning, but not before allowing a run to make it 8-5.

Paredes came back out for the bottom of the eighth, and despite allowing another run to come across to make it 8-6 would get a much-needed double play to send the game to the ninth. In the top of the ninth, the Astros were able to load the bases for Jose Altuve, who added an RBI-groundout insurance run to make it 9-6. Andre Scrubb would come in for the save opportunity and preserved the three-run lead for the Houston win.

Up Next: Game two of this three-game set between Houston and Los Angeles will be Saturday at 6:10 PM Central. The pitching matchup will be Griffin Canning for the Angels going against Zack Greinke for the Astros. Greinke will try to improve upon his first start of the year in which he was only able to go 3.1 innings while allowing three runs.

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The power struggle continues. Photo by Getty Images.

Boy, with the recent blizzard of negative publicity – searing magazine cover stories with headlines blasting "Houston Has a Problem" and "The Chaplain Who Won a Power Struggle and Plunged a Franchise into Chaos" – I'll bet the Houston Texans wished they had a seasoned, respected and award-winning media director to handle damage control.

Oh yeah, that's exactly what they had in Amy Palcic, but she was fired last year. Reason: she "wasn't the right culture fit."

What exactly is the Houston Texans culture these days? Apparently the culture is players disliking and distrusting the team executive specifically charged with managing the team's culture. It's that same executive whose resume has more fudging than the Keebler Cookie Company. It's that executive who's accused of authorizing illegal practices and hiring private eyes to follow players in their private activities. It's that executive who's accused of intimidating employees who trash him to the media and threatening to sue media outlets. It's that executive who imposes his religious fervor on lower-ranked employees. It's that executive who has created a culture where gifted quarterback Deshaun Watson is said to want a trade out of Houston.

That executive is Jack Easterby - the backstabbing, butt-smooching BS'er who seems to have a Svengali hold on Texans chairman Cal McNair.

If it comes down to one stays and one has to go between Watson and Easterby … hmmm, let's see. Deshaun Watson threw for 4,823 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. Jack Easterby, zero and zero.

Last week, Texans legend Andre Johnson, who usually speaks up less than the magician Teller, tweeted: "Since Jack Easterby walk into the building nothing good has happened. For some reason someone can't seem to see what's going on. Pathetic!!!"

That "someone" would be Texans chairman Cal McNair, who continues to support Easterby despite all the accusations and revelations hurled Easterby's way.

By the way, Easterby has not sued any media outlet that is publishing stories about his bullying and sneakiness. And he won't sue because that last thing he wants is to be put in a witness chair and swear to tell the truth.

In the past 12 months, with Easterby sticking his nose in McNair's ear, the Texans have managed to alienate and infuriate superstar Watson: trade All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins and create a losing, uninspired clubhouse that has favorite son J.J. Watt wanting a trade to leave his beloved Houston.

It's not like Easterby is some mad genius who somehow produces spectacular results despite his unorthodox tactics. The Texans finished 2020 with a disastrous 4-12 record, with little to show for it, not even a top draft pick to honor their futility. The Texans are clearly in need of divine intervention, and not from huckster Easterby, whose degree is in sports management from Newberry College. Easterby is only dimples and wavy hair short of being a TV preacher.

You can't deny that Easterby is inspiration. He recently inspired a public protest on the sidewalk outside NRG Stadium and signs swaying over Southwest Freeway with the same message: #FireJackEasterby. Watson asked his supporters not to attend the rally due to COVID precaution.

Then there's the case of Deshaun Watson v. Cal McNair.

Watson was born into an economically disadvantaged family and has worked for, and deserves, every penny he is paid. He is a champion.

Cal McNair found the Houston Texans under his Christmas tree in 2018 after his father Texans original owner Bob McNair died.

Watson is an extremely bright and sensitive man who is deeply involved in social issues off the field. Last year, during the summer of racial upheaval in America, he led the charge to have the name of a former slave owner removed from a building on his alma mater Clemson's campus.

McNair hardly ever speaks in public and his stumbling, confused performance at a press conference to announce the hire of general manager Nick Caserio showed why. It's rare when a team owner has to apologize after making what should have been a happy statement promising fans a better future. However, if a stage production of the Beverly Hillbillies ever goes to Broadway, we've got our Jethro.

Many times when a player gets into a public spat with a team owner, it's a dumb jock player vs. the super-smart businessman who owns a billion-dollar company. It's usually over money. And the public typically thinks, "just get rid of the ungrateful, overpaid and greedy player."

Not this time. Watson already got his – four years at $156 million. This is a war of morality. Watson is the hero here, McNair the fool being played by Easterby, who like Cassius is Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, "has a lean and hungry look."

If it came to a public vote between Watson and McNair (Easterby), Watson's landslide win would rival Kim Jong-Un in North Korea … or LeAnn Rimes on The Masked Singer.

It's unfair to call McNair and Easterby polarizing figures because polarizing implies that there are two sides to the issue.

There is only one side. Houston loves Deshaun Watson and wants McNair to sell the team, right after he fires Easterby.

Seemingly the only defender rushing to Easterby's side is a Twitter account allegedly owned by Easterby under a fake name. If it is a burner account, Easterby has a whole lot of faith in himself.

Although football insiders say that Watson is all but out the door at NRG Stadium, there is still a chance that McNair could save the day, and do what is needed to keep Watson in Texans' gear. And that would be to fire Easterby. Now.

Sadly, given McNair's repeated pledges of loyalty to Easterby and insistence that criticism of Easterby is unwarranted, Watson's leaving Houston gets more likely each day. Andre Johnson had it right … "pathetic!!!"

Three exclamation points.

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