THE PALLILOG

MLB's draft punishment could be a blessing in disguise for Astros

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

For all my character flaws, naivete is not among them. Unless I'm too naive to know otherwise. I think the baseball owners and players reach an agreement on a season longer than the insulting 48 games Commissioner Rob Manfred could cram down the players' throats. Could be mere wishful thinking.

The Major League Baseball Draft is consequential but pales in interest and significance relative to the NFL Draft and NBA Draft. The lower interest is explained simply in that college baseball is much less popular than its football and basketball brethren. The significance is less because of the importance of international signings (i.e. Dominican Republic) in Major League Baseball of players not eligible for the draft. Still, the draft matters.

The Astros' cheating program cost them their first and second round draft picks both this year and next. That's additionally problematic because new General Manager James Click inherited an Astros' farm system that now ranks in the bottom quarter among the 30 organizations. A possible silver lining of sorts to being out their top two picks two years running, the Astros save millions of dollars in signing bonuses they could choose to pour into, say, the Keep George Springer Fund.

The Astros' first selection was the 72nd overall choice, high school pitcher Alex Santos from the Bronx who grew up less than two miles from Yankee Stadium. Yes, a diehard Yankees fan. He'll adapt. Over the last 10 drafts, not one player taken 72nd has become a decent big leaguer. The Astros nailed a number 72 in 1989, selecting Shane Reynolds out of the University of Texas. Reynolds's 103 wins rank eighth on the Astros' career win list. How many of the seven ahead of him can you name? Answer below.

Turn back the clock

Kudos to AT&T Sportsnet for getting ahold of the original telecasts of the epic 1980 National League Championship Series between the Astros and Phillies. The ABC broadcast team of Keith Jackson, Don Drysdale, and Howard Cosell called a best-of-five series that went the distance, with games two, three, four, and five all going extra innings. Games three, four, and five air Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights respectively. At the Astrodome the Astros blew eighth inning leads in games four and five. In the decisive fifth game the Phils rallied from down 5-2 in the eighth against Nolan Ryan, wound up winning 8-7 in 10, and then went on to beat the Royals in the World Series. Almost 40 years later no spoiler alert was warranted!

Sunday night ESPN debuts the documentary "Long Gone Summer." That's the story of the 1998 Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run derby. After lying for years McGwire in 2010 finally fessed up to steroid use. 10 years later, Sosa has never admitted use. You don't suppose…?

NBA

As the NBA prepares for a resumption of play at the end of next month the Rockets are considered a second tier title contender. The first tier consists of the Bucks, Lakers, and Clippers. Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the Rockets' last NBA Finals game, and the winning of their second championship as they polished off a four game sweep of the Orlando Magic. There have been only three Finals sweeps since: Lakers over the Nets in 2002, Spurs over the Cavaliers in 2007, and Warriors over the Cavs in 2018. In the quarter century since the Rockets last reached the title round, more than half the league's franchises (15 of 29) have played for the O'Brien Trophy.

The route to the 2020 title will be the most unique in league history. An ESPN report Thursday said as many as 50 players are iffy about the prospect of entering the Disney World "bubble" to play. Players will have the right to opt out, but they would be opting out of getting paid. How many ultimately will choose to stay away?

Fore!

The PGA returned to play Thursday in Fort Worth with the first round of what for years and years was known as the Colonial Invitational. The field is loaded (albeit without Tiger Woods) and expanded. Tom Lehman won the Colonial in 1995, so he was invited to play as a former champion. Lehman came credibly close to shooting his age in round one. Lehman is 61. He shot 65! It's a par 70 course as opposed to the more typical par 72, but that's phenomenal.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Joe Niekro 144, Roy Oswalt 143, Larry Dierker 137, Mike Scott 110, J.R. Richard 107, Nolan Ryan 106, Don Wilson 104

2. Of course NASCAR should have done away with Confederate flags at its races. A long time ago.

3. Best golf movies: Bronze-anything but Caddyshack II Silver-Tin Cup Gold-Caddyshack

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Carlos Correa had a big home run Saturday night. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

With four wins in a row, including the first two of this series, Houston had a chance to keep their momentum going to lock up a series win on Saturday in this four-game set. Although Texas would make it interesting late, the Astros would hold them off to get the victory.

Final Score: Astros 6, Rangers 5

Astros' Record: 23-17, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Luis Garcia (1-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dane Dunning (2-3)

Action in the first

After getting trounced the night prior, the Rangers managed to grab early momentum with a run to start the scoring Saturday night against Luis Garcia. It came after a one-out triple set up a sac fly, giving Texas a 1-0 lead. Houston quickly took control back in their favor, though, putting up four in the bottom of the inning on a two-RBI single by Alex Bregman and a two-run homer by Carlos Correa, making it 4-1 Astros.

The scoreboard went quiet after that inning, with both teams slowing down at the plate. Garcia put together a decent night, allowing just the one run over five innings of work, erasing some runners throughout the night. His final line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 0 HR, 94 P.

Rangers tighten it up late

Bryan Abreu was the first reliever to enter for Houston, taking over for Garcia in the top of the sixth. He worked around a leadoff single, keeping it a three-run game, then returned for a 1-2-3 top of the seventh. Correa led off with a double in the bottom of the inning, setting up a two-run Kyle Tucker homer, extending his recent hot streak and the lead to 6-1.

Ryne Stanek took over on the mound for Houston in the top of the eighth but worked himself into trouble with a single and walk to set up a three-run homer by Joey Gallo to make it a two-run game at 6-4. He would manage just one out before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Brandon Bielak. Bielak would allow a run while getting the final two outs, making it 6-5.

Astros secure the series

After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, Ryan Pressly would try to notch another save and close the door on the Rangers. He would get the job done, sitting the Rangers down in order, keeping Houston's winning streak intact.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game set will start at 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Lance McCullers JR. (3-1, 3.10 ERA), fresh off of a recent gem, will look to continue his success for the Astros, while Kyle Gibson (3-0, 2.28) will try to stay perfect on the season for the Rangers.

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