Barry's View

Off the top of my bald head: A look at an amazing weekend in Houston sports

Off the top of my bald head: A look at an amazing weekend in Houston sports
Barry Warner looks back on a big weekend. Barry Warner

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!

Chirp.
 

 

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Coogs beat the Sooners, 87-85. Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images.

Jamal Shead hit a short follow shot with 0.4 seconds left and No. 1 Houston beat Oklahoma 87-85 on Saturday night, giving coach Kelvin Sampson a victory over one of his former schools.

Shead missed a driving layup attempt, but corralled the rebound and put the Cougars back ahead after they blew a 15-point lead. Emanuel Sharp tipped away a desperation pass by Oklahoma’s Milos Uzan as time expired.

“The main thing (on the last shot) was to get it to the rim,” Sampson said. “We weren’t going to shoot anything outside of 5 feet. There were three ways to win that game — a whistle, make the shot or (grab) an offensive rebound and put it in — and we got the third one.”

Sampson credited the result to Houston’s “winning DNA. We had a lot of things go against us tonight. … We were just plugging the holes in the boat up.”

L.J. Cryer led Houston (26-3, 13-3 Big 12) with 23 points, making 5 of 9 3-pointers. J’Wan Roberts added 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting, and Shead scored 14 points. Houston shot 56.7% from the field and Oklahoma was at 52.7%.

Rivaldo Soares had 16 points for Oklahoma (19-10, 7-9). Le’Tre Darthard had 15 points, finishing 5 of 7 from 3-point range.

Sampson coached Oklahoma from 1994 to 2006 and ranks second in program history with 279 wins and first in winning percentage (.719). Before Saturday, he’d never coached against the Sooners, but Houston’s entry into the Big 12 for this basketball season provided that opportunity.

Sampson received a warm welcome as he entered the Lloyd Noble Arena court, with many fans applauding, cheering and standing. Just before player introductions, Sampson and his three assistants with Oklahoma ties — former players Hollis Price, Quannas White and Kellen Sampson, his son — were individually recognized with announcements and pictured on the video board.

“The memories that I will take from here are just amazing,” Kelvin Sampson said. “Oklahoma will always be home in a lot of ways.”

Houston made its first week this season at No. 1 a successful one, with two wins. The Cougars are a game ahead of No. 8 Iowa State in the conference standings with two games left in the regular season and remain in the conversation for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Houston has won eight of the last nine games it has played as the No. 1-ranked team and is 35-5 overall while atop the AP poll.

Oklahoma dropped its second game of the week against a top-10 opponent, having lost 58-45 at Iowa State on Wednesday night.

The Sooners pushed Houston to the limit. Houston led 67-52 with 12:01 left, but the Sooners methodically closed that gap and Javian McCollum’s layup with 11.8 seconds left tied it at 85. It came after a hustle play by Uzan, who tracked down a rebound off a missed free throw and threw it off the leg of Sharp, allowing it to carom out of bounds.

Oklahoma coach Porter Moser said the vibe in the Sooners’ locker room was “tough. It wasn’t like they were happy to be close. They’re hurting. That’s a good sign. … That’s the elite of the elite and we’ve got to find a way to win that. That’s my job.

“I thought they were resilient battling back. Houston made tough shots, open shots, good shots. They do a lot of good things … but I thought we did too. We played the best team in the country, but we fell short. The margin of error when you play a team that good is small.”

Godwin went 6 of 6 from the field and led Oklahoma with 17 points, missing only the one free throw in six attempts as well. He also had seven rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: Sampson surely appreciated the warm welcome from fans on his return to Oklahoma, but he’s undoubtedly glad to have the emotional game against the Sooners over with. Now he can push the Cougars to focus on finishing the regular season strong and prepare them for the postseason.

Oklahoma: A win over the nation’s No. 1 team might have pushed the Sooners up a line or two in NCAA tournament seeding, but the loss shouldn’t damage their postseason hopes too much. Oklahoma probably needs at least one win next week — at home against Cincinnati or at Texas — to stay comfortably off the NCAA bubble heading into the Big 12 Tournament.

UP NEXT:

Houston: At Central Florida on Wednesday night.

Oklahoma: Host Cincinnati on Tuesday night.

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