TEAM COMES TO JAKE'S DEFENSE AND BRINGS SQUAD CLOSER TOGETHER

Marisnick collision and aftermath could be turning point in season

Photo via: Astros/Facebook

Every season has a turning point and a moment or two that becomes a catalyst as to whether or not the team makes a long run and has playoff success or fails to live up to expectations and goes home early. There is still plenty of the season still to be played, but this year's version of that defining moment could very well be the collision at home plate between Jake Marisinick and Angel's catcher Jonathan Lucroy and the aftermath both on the field and on social media. From the minute it happened the court of public opinion had plenty to say and lots of venom to spew Jake's way. From members of the media to current players like Yadier Molina and plenty of cowardly keyboard warriors on Twitter and Instagram, everyone took the time to rip Marisnick and detail the punishment they felt like he deserved. Through it all Jake handled it all with remorse and honest commentary as he tried to explain his thought process and what he planned to do going forward. Never once did he lash out or get into a war of words with his critics as he answered the numerous questions from the media and expressed his deep regret to Lucroy. Jake handled everything with class and in the process, we found out just how tight a bunch this Astros team really is.

AJ Hinch, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The greatest thing to come out of this horrible situation was the support Jake received from his teammates and the way his manager and some of the biggest names on the roster were outspoken in defending him and vouching for his character. From Lance McCullers and Justin Verlander, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, everyone had Jake's back as they told anyone that would listen what a great person Jake was and how he would never purposely try and hurt another player in any game situation. George Springer was telling the TV audience right after the game ended and that was the first of many examples of a team that would not let one of their own be hung out to dry and left to fend for himself. A lot of players in the same situation would rather run and hide for fear of damaging their own image and yet here were the Astros providing strength in numbers as they protected their brother. Manager AJ Hinch, a former catcher, was quick to explain the split second a player has to decide his path and route to the plate while attempting to avoid the defender. He added that Jake was not a dirty player, the contact was not intentional and that Marisnick felt awful and was deeply concerned for Lucroy. It was a very unexpected outcome stemming from a very unfortunate situation.

With all that unfolded surrounding the collision, there was more adversity to come and it would get worse before it got better. Marisnick received word from the office of Major League Baseball that he would be suspended for two games for his role in the play. He quickly said he would appeal, but that would mean that he would have to play in Anaheim, against Lucroy's Angels with all of their fans chomping at the bit to give Jake a piece of their mind. They didn't hold back and certainly got more than their money's worth as the attacks were relentless and most had no boundaries or filter. Eventually, the Angles themselves would look for payback as pitcher Noe Ramirez would not only hit Jake but come dangerously close to his head and neck, drawing the ire of many of the Astros who witnessed it from the dugout. That would spur heated dialog between first baseman Albert Pujols and the Houston bench, so much so, that both benches would clear. Throughout it all, the one player that played peacemaker and attempted to get order restored was none other than Jake. He waved his guys back into the dugout as he calmly discussed everything with Pujols. He never once looked to fight or stir the pot, he only wanted to put everything behind him so he and the team could move on and move forward. The team was off to a slow start after the all-star break and they really needed to re-focus and get back to baseball.

Yuli Gurriel Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It's funny how things work out and how a team can get closer and play better when faced with its darkest moments in the middle of a swarm of adversity. Turmoil and stressful situations can splinter a team and tear it apart if not handled correctly. On the flip side, a group that stays together no matter how bad a particular incident may seem can actually benefit from it and gain momentum from having stuck together in the face of the negativity. The latter has been the case for the Astros who seem to have used the Marisnick incident to get even tighter, closer together and focussed on moving forward winning as many games as possible to get closer to their ultimate goal of another World Series title. The team won the final 2 games in Anaheim after rallying around Jake and haven't looked back or lost since. They just swept the hated Texas Rangers in a 4 game series and broke out the heavy lumber in opening up a double-digit lead on their way to taking the first game of a huge series against the A's at Minute Maid Park Monday night. They have won 7 in a row and are getting healthier with each passing day as they are playing some of their best baseball of the year. The results speak for themselves as they have taken a licking and just keep on ticking. They say winning is contagious and together everyone achieves more, but this team found out the hard way that character is a powerful tool and if used by an entire team in unison, it can move mountains and build a culture. Jake has always been a fan favorite and one of the most beloved players in the Astros clubhouse, but he may be even more entrenched in this Houston lovefest after how he handled a very difficult situation and came out of it a better man for having gone through it. Let's hope that when the season is over and we look back on its biggest moments and turning points we can point a finger at those moments in mid-July that started with a collision and ended with a bang.

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James Harden returned to Houston on Wednesday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

"James Harden will always be a Houston Rocket" – Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, Tuesday March 2, 2021.

Really?

Then that must have been some other bearded fellow notching a triple double and leading the Brooklyn Nets to a 132-114 drubbing of the Rockets at Toyota Center, Wednesday March 3, 2021.

What a difference a day doesn't make, as the Rockets fell to their 13th consecutive defeat.

The Rockets played a tribute video for Harden, marking his first visit to Houston since the Rockets traded him, practically at gunpoint, to Brooklyn. On the same day Fertitta bizarrely fantasized that Harden will always be a Rocket, the team owner also announced that the Rockets will retire Harden's No.13.

What is wrong with you, Tilman? You sound like a jilted shnook who goes on the Jerry Springer Show to beg his runaround ex-wife to come back. Harden dumped you, remember? He wanted out of Houston so badly that he turned down your contract offer that would have made him the highest-paid athlete in American sports history.

Don't you recall his farewell comments as a Rocket? The Rockets were "just not good enough. I mean it's just crazy. It's something that I don't think can be fixed."

That's burning down the house on your way out. Not exactly Lou Gehrig's farewell speech, "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth," and praising his Yankee manager, teammates and owners.

Sure Harden was a video game scoring machine during his eight years in Houston. But he also chased away teammates. The Rockets never won a conference title with Harden. He stunk up the joint during some playoff games and disappeared in others. Overall, Harden was a spectacular player on a consistently good but never great team. That's his legacy in Houston.

I expected a tribute video for Harden and he probably deserved it. Why not? The Rockets did similar videos for role player Trevor Ariza and Russell Westbrook, who played all of 57 games during his one pandemic-shortened season in Houston and immediately demanded a trade.

A tribute video for Westbrook? What's next, a statue of Moochie Norris outside Toyota Center? Renaming Polk Street … Vassilis Spanoulis Way?

Retiring Harden's number 13 doesn't compare to similarly honored Rockets legends who played their hearts out, brought a title home or loved this team to their last playing breath, like Hakeem Olajuwon (34), Clyde Drexler (22), Calvin Murphy (23), Rudy T (45), Moses Malone (24) and Yao Ming (11).

James Harden crapped all over the Rockets on his way out the door. He was the ultimate prima donna during his time here, moody and mopey, demanding special travel arrangements, alienating teammates and taking playoff losses so hard he almost didn't make it to the strip clubs before closing time.

You know the saying, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. In Harden's case, he got going to Brooklyn. So much for the captain going down with the ship. Wednesday night, Rockets fans greeted Harden with some cheers, but more lusty boos on his return to Houston.

"I gave him a special introduction, like a home team introduction, but there were way more boos than I expected," said Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas.

Harden finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists, a routine triple double for him of late. He controlled the Nets offense and dominated the game.

Of course it was a regular season game. It's what he does.

For those of you scoring at home: the NBA team with the most retired numbers is the Boston Celtics, with 22 jerseys "hanging in the rafters." That's the most of any team in any U.S. pro sport. The New York Yankees are next with 21 retired numbers. The Montreal Canadiens lead the NHL with 15 retired numbers. Not coincidentally, the Celts (17 – tied with Lakers), Yanks (27) and Habs (24) all lead their leagues with the most championships.

The NFL team with the most retired numbers is a strange one. It's the Chicago Bears with 14 jerseys that will never be worn again. The Bears have won nine titles, second to the Green Bay Packers with 13 championships.

Harden's jersey will not be the first "13" hoisted over an NBA court – far from it. Three teams, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Golden State have retired Wilt Chamberlain's No. 13. The Harlem Globetrotters also retired The Stilt's jersey, but I guess they don't count.

The Cavaliers retired Bobby Phills' No. 13 after his fatal car crash. Portland retired Dave Twardzik's jersey. Here's some synergy, the Suns retired Harden's current coach Steve Nash's No. 13. And the Spurs retired the No. 13 jersey of James Silas (no relation to Rockets coach Stephen Silas.

And as Charlie Pallilo – and only Charlie Pallilo – will tell you, the first retired number in North American pro sports history belonged to Ace Bailey of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs retired his number in 1934 after Bailey suffered a career-ending injury the year before.

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