Off the top of my bald head: A look at an amazing weekend in Houston sports
The back-to-back 2-1 Astros wins over the Yankees will be part of Houston sports lore for years to come. Like Earl Campbell scoring four touchdowns on Monday Night Football against Don Shula’s Dolphins, the Oilers returning to the Dome after losing to the Steelers, Mike Scott’s season ending no-hitter or Rudy T’s NBA Title wins, a million fans will claim they were there.
Playoff baseball is all about pitching and defense. In the Friday night 2-1 win Dallas Kuechel continues to be Kryptonite against the Yankees
For his career in eight starts against the Yankees, including two postseason efforts, he owns a microscopic 1.09 ERA in 58 ²/₃ innings, with 62 strikeouts and eight walks. He struck out 10, using his sinkers, cutters, sliders. Forget about pounding the strike zone with radar gun speed. The lefty makes hitters look they are at a driving range swinging at ankle high pitches.
The former Cy Young award winner is the first pitcher in playoff history to record two consecutive scoreless starts against the Yankees with at least seven innings and seven K's. A great throw by left fielder Marwin Gonzalez -- nailing Greg Bird at the plate -- was the defensive play of the game.
Justin Verlander’s hero is Nolan Ryan, who pitched in the era of complete games for starters. Verlander allowed only five hits and one walk, while striking out 13. He ran his fastball up to 97 mph and his slider up to 89. He filled up the strike zone, throwing 93 of his 124 pitches for strikes.
The unsung Astros hero was colorful right fielder Josh Reddick — who has three Spiderman outfits in his locker and his red, white and blue bikini Speedo for champagne celebrations, was outstanding. He made a leaping catch at the wall to steal an extra-base hit, and perhaps a home run, from Chase Headley.
But Reddick was not done. The next batter, Brett Gardner, smacked a 3-2 slider into the right-field corner. Reddick picked up the ball barehanded after it bounced off the wall and whipped a strike to Correa, on the edge of the outfield grass. The former top pick in the draft wheeled and fired a one-hop throw to third baseman Alex Bregman, who gathered it on the home-plate side of third base and slapped a tag on Gardner as he slid headfirst to the outside of the bag.
Jose Altuve scored the game winner in the bottom of the ninth on a combination of brain farts. Shortstop Didi Gregorius did not go to the outfield grass to take the relay. Catcher Gary Sanchez did not take off his mask, then dropped the ball that could have tagged Altuve.
In the two games here, both 2-1 defeats, the Yankees managed just one run in 16 innings against the Astros’ starting pitchers: Keuchel and Verlander. The two young sluggers that are the drivers of the Yankees offense — Aaron Judge and Sanchez — went a combined 1 for 14 with eight strikeouts.
But what these two pitching-rich games have highlighted more than anything else is the Astros’ ability to change games with their defense, while the Yankees have been unable to do so.
Sunday the worst run team in all pro sports, the Cleveland Browns, saw quarterback Kevin Hogan become the 28th starting QB since 1999. His first start with the Browns is one he won't forget. And it's one the Browns never expected. He was 20-of-37 passing Sunday for 140 yards with three interceptions and one TD and was sacked four times. The idea of playing Hogan was to cut down on the turnovers. So much for that. Even without J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, the defense didn't allow a touchdown until long after the outcome had been decided, had three interceptions (including a pick six by Jonathan Joseph) and forced a safety.
Once again, the legend of Deshaun Watson continues to grow, with three touchdown passes. But the most impressive takeaway for me was the poorly thrown pick six to Jason McCourty. Watson was pissed at himself immediately in the celebrating locker room.
Watson confirmed to me after the game he received a Draft Night text from Browns Coach Hue Jackson that read “Be ready.” The precocious Franchise in the Making just smiled when I asked if he had a chip on his shoulder. His smile spoke loud and clear. He now has the most touchdowns in six games of any NFL rookie since the NFC-AFC merger
Coaches are no different than fans when it comes to watching Watson. Two Texan assistant coaches told me “When the tape comes on we look at each other and say, 'did you see that' several times."
Another told me “the kid is like a sponge as he soaks up more of the playbook each week. We knew he could run, but his passing in both practices and games is much further along than expected. "
Against the blitzing Browns defense led by former Aggie Myles Garrett, who had four hits on Watson, Bill O Brien shut down the running for his quarterback early in the third quarter. His formations where tight end Ryan Griffin lines up in the offset I in the backfield puts more pressure on the defense on flash plays, giving Watson another wrinkle.
Will Fuller caught another touchdown pass, giving him five in the three games he has played since returning from an injury. But that drop of a sure touchdown pass from Watson was a flashback to last season. The Texans can only hope that doesn't become a thing again.
Texans go into the bye week 3-3, while former team leader Duane Browns has lost over three million bucks in the weirdest holdout I have even. He may very well come back this week. But the front office will not redo his deal that has two years remaining,
Guess we should applaud him for making so many great investments he can lose that many dead presidents!