The home team has yet to lose. The Astros hope that continues. Elsa/Getty Images
Sometimes athletes just fail. It doesn’t mean they choked. Of course, sometimes they do choke. So what gives with the Astros’ offense in the American League Championship Series? It has been jarring to see the best offense in Major League Baseball basically curl up in the fetal position and be as utterly inept as it was through the first five games against the Yankees.
The Astros’ offense deserved to get swept in four. Two runs were enough to win each of the first two games of the series thanks to the fabulous pitching of Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander. Game three saw one meaningless ninth inning run in an 8-1 loss. In the Gag Game 6-4 game four loss, only two earned runs among the four plated. Then a big fat ugly goose egg in game five. It was the Bungle in The Bronx, or as a friend suggested to me, DeBacle in DeBronx. A pitiful sum of six consequential earned runs mustered over five games.
Baseball isn’t golf. The opponent has direct bearing on the outcome. The Yankees have pitched spectacularly. They had the third best ERA in the American League this season. Their bullpen is sensational, and going into the series the Yankee pen over the Astro pen was the biggest edge New York had. One of baseball’s longest standing clichés is good pitching beats good hitting. In this series it has beaten it to a bloody pulp. But that doesn’t explain the magnitude of the Astros’ offensive failings.
George Springer can be slump prone and has gotten very few good swings. Marwin Gonzalez has looked generally awful at the plate. Josh Reddick and Alex Bregman are fiery players whose intensity helps make them the players they are. Both seem to be pressing with that intensity perhaps turning against them. Carlos Correa appeared overanxious and lost his control of the strike zone. Even Jose Altuve was contaminated, going 0-for-the Bronx. There was no reason to expect significant contributions from Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. That leaves only Yuli Gurriel having holding up his end of the bargain in the batter’s box.
Sports Happens. Within a short series of games, prior long term data just isn’t very relevant. Right now Astro batters don’t need analytics, they need an analyst. A clinical analyst. Who works very quickly.
For all that, the spit-the-bit “we’ve blown it, it’s over” mentality held by plenty of Astros’ fans after game five amuses me. If your players took that mentality you would vilify them! Momentum can be so fickle. Up two games to none who had all the momentum? Leading 4-0 in game four who had all the momentum? A saying usually applied to an NBA Playoff series is that the series doesn’t truly begin until a road team wins a game. Well, this series now ends in six if the road team finally wins a game. Otherwise Houston hosts its first ever baseball game seven Saturday night.
Given the alternative, anyone who is a Houston fan desperately wants that game seven at Minute Maid Park. But the Rockets should be forgiven if in a quiet place a part of them thinks, “Really?” The Rockets’ home opener is Saturday night against the Mavericks. If concurrently the Astros are playing Game 7 who the heck would prioritize the Rockets-Mavs? Well, the Rockets themselves obviously. Rockets’ employees, most I guess. Those who hate baseball, who are beneath contempt. Vastly overshadowed because of the late night game time following the Astros’ bullpen implosion, what an opening night win for the Rockets roaring back from 13 points down starting the fourth quarter to beat the Warriors in Oakland. That does not announce the Rockets are on equal footing with the Champs. But for those unaware or not yet in hoop mode, the Rockets (pending the X-factor of injuries) are going to win 50+ again this season.
Open week for the Texans. Open week, it’s not a bye! The Texans in a different style remain what they have regularly been under Head Coach Bill O’Brien: mediocre. In the AFC South mediocrity means first place, a share of it anyway with the likewise 3-3 Jaguars and Titans. Holding the schedule edge Jacksonville is the favorite right now. If the Texans can’t avenge their season opening humiliating loss to the Jags with a December win in Florida it’s highly unlikely they win the division. First problems first. A road trip to Seattle next week will pose by far DeShaun Watson’s toughest challenge from a defense to date.
BUZZER BEATERS: 1. It is not too early to be genuinely concerned about Chris Paul’s sore knee. 2. The Cleveland Browns would beat Alabama by at least a field goal. 3. Best pie brand specific: Gold-Goode Company pecan Silver-Truluck’s key lime Bronze-Marisa’s deep dish apple
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.
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.
Houston: At Central Florida on Wednesday night.
Oklahoma: Host Cincinnati on Tuesday night.