Barry's View

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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Houston couldn't keep up

Astros fall to Blue Jays as Toronto gets homer-happy

Houston's bats couldn't keep up with Toronto's Saturday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With an offensive clinic in the opener on Friday night, which helped them handily defeat the Blue Jays, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park Saturday with a chance to secure another series. Toronto had other plans, though, reversing roles with Houston by getting big home runs to even the series.

Final Score: Blue Jays 8, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 17-16, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Steven Matz (5-2)

Losing Pitcher: Cristian Javier (3-1)

Toronto flips the script and turns on their offense against Javier

Toronto flipped the script from the night before early in this middle game of the series, dealing damage to Cristian Javier, who so far in 2021 had been able to limit his amount of earned runs. After retiring the first four batters he faced, a one-out walk in the top of the second set up the Blue Jays' first hit of the night, a two-run home run by Cavan Biggio, giving them a 2-0 lead over Houston.

After a leadoff home run made it a 3-0 score, Javier would deal with the fallout of more walks in the top of the third, issuing two to set up a two-out two-RBI double to give the Jays a commanding 5-0 advantage. Javier would battle back and complete five full innings, getting one out into the sixth before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to make the call to the bullpen. His final line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 91 P.

Alvarez keeps mashing as Houston tries to claw back into it

Javier would exit with at least some runs on the board in support of him, with Yordan Alvarez hitting a two-run opposite-field homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to three runs. Alvarez accounted for another run in the next inning, coming through with an RBI-single to make it 5-3, which is where the game stood as Andre Scrubb would take over in the top of the sixth.

Scrubb finished that inning for Javier and returned for a 1-2-3 seventh to keep it a two-run game. Bryan Abreu was the next reliever, and he, too, was able to retire the Blue Jays in order in the top of the eighth. The Astros continued to chip away at Toronto's lead, getting another run in the bottom of the inning on an RBI by Yuli Gurriel to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth.

Toronto evens the series

Brooks Raley entered to try and keep it a one-run game with a clean inning, but instead, two runners would reach on a walk and error before Joe Smith would enter to try and strand them. Instead, a two-out home run put the game back out of reach at 8-4, with Houston coming up empty in the bottom of the inning, setting up a rubber match in the finale.

Up Next: This series's third and final game will be an afternoon start of 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.76 ERA) will try to add more wins to his record for Houston, while Nate Pearson will be making his 2021 debut for Toronto.

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