MLB OPENING DAY

For openers, Astros knock off Rangers 4-1 to begin title defense

Justin Verlander was on his game in the opener in Arlington. Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

A huge American flag in the outfield. Watching an amazing flyover after the national anthem. The cheer from the crowd the first time the home team takes the field, followed by the first “play ball!” of the season. Is there anything better than MLB opening day? Just one thing: a win.

The Astros started their World Series defense with a 4-1 win over the Rangers in Arlington on Thursday afternoon. They were led by a strong outing from ace Justin Verlander, who had run support thanks to RBIs from George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Jake Marisnick.

That RBI from Springer came on the third pitch in the game, getting a season-starting leadoff home run for the second year in a row, the only player in MLB history who can make that claim. The dinger made it 1-0 Astros right off the bat, a lead they extended in the third inning on a sacrifice fly from Altuve to make it 2-0.

They quickly extended their lead to 3-0 on a solo shot from Jake Marisnick in the third, and the score would stay that way deep into the game thanks to a strong first start from Verlander. Verlander went six full innings, throwing 90 pitches which resulted in only four hits for the Rangers, no runs, and five strikeouts.

Chris Devenski got his first inning of work in the seventh, a nearly perfect inning where he blanked the Rangers with two strikeouts. In the top of the eighth, Correa drove in Altuve, who scored from first on a great read on the hit paired with his amazing speed, bringing the score to 4-0 heading into the eighth.

Brad Peacock took over on the mound in the bottom of the eighth, throwing a scoreless inning with one strikeout. Ken Giles looked to bounce back from a poor postseason in 2017 and start 2018 on a good note when he came in to close the game in the bottom of the ninth, but instead gave up a leadoff double to Elvis Andrus who would tag on a fly ball then score on a wild pitch to get the Rangers their first run of the game and make it 4-1. Giles eventually got the final out with a strikeout, sealing the Astros' first win of the season.

Next up: The Astros will continue the four-game series in Arlington tomorrow through Sunday before heading home for the home opener on Monday. Stay tuned to SportsMap for our weekly recaps of the Astros all season.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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