The Pallilog

Pallilo's view: Choke or just give credit to the Yankees?

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

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Watson's accusers appeared on Real Sports on Tuesday night. Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images.

HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’s heavily promoted and much anticipated examination of Deshaun Watson’s legal mess involving alleged sexual misconduct shed little new light and merely presented a summary of well worn he said/she (x22) said accusations and denials.

The episode debuted Tuesday night on the premium cable service and will be repeated dozens of times throughout the week on HBO’s platforms. Check your local listings for times and channel.

The segment was hosted by Soledad O’Brien who presented compelling face-to-face interviews with two of the quarterback’s accusers: massage therapists Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes. Their stories were detailed and graphic. Both cried during the interviews.

Solis: “As I’m working, he deliberately grabs himself and put his penis on my hand. I pulled my hand away instantly and I started crying. I told that I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Solis said she felt threatened when Watson, before leaving the session, allegedly told her: “I know you have a career to protect, and I know that you don’t want anyone messing with it, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”

Solis added, “That’s when I got really scared because that sounded like a threat to me.”

Hayes: “He wanted me to kind of make a V motion in his pelvic area. I just kept massaging and did what he asked, until his penis kept touching me repeatedly as I did it.”

Hayes said that Watson had an orgasm, which she said was “mortifying, embarrassing and disgusting.”

O’Brien asked Hayes why she continued to have contact via email with Watson after their encounter.

Hayes: "I wasn't sure what he was capable of. He could've physically assaulted me. He could've bashed my business, so I had to protect myself and my business the best way I saw fit. Did I ever see him again after that? No. Did I give him the runaround? Yes."

O’Brien pointed out that two separate grand juries in Texas heard criminal accusations against Watson and neither found enough evidence to indict him.

Solis and Hayes, and 20 other massage therapists have filed civil suits against Watson. The cases aren’t expected to reach a courtroom until next March. Both sides could reach a settlement before then which would effectively shut down any legal action against Watson. However, both sides say they aren’t interested in any pretrial settlements. That’s what they say now, anyway.

After being banished to the sidelines for the 2021 season by the Houston Texans, Watson signed a historic, 5-year fully guaranteed $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

Hayes said she feels Watson “is being rewarded for bad behavior." Solis said, "It's just like a big screw you. That's what it feels like. That we (the Browns) don't care. He can run and throw, and that's what we care about.”

Watson currently is participating in preseason workouts with the Browns and, at the moment, is cleared to play the upcoming NFL season.

That is unless the NFL suspends Watson for some, most or all of the 2022 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is nearing completion of its independent investigation into Watson’s case and will reach a decision “shortly,” probably this summer. The NFL and NFL Players Association mutually agreed to have former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson decide whether or not Watson violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy and what discipline should be handed down if he did.

The Browns are scheduled to play the Texans on Dec. 4 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

O’Brien said, while producing the Real Sports piece, she tried to interview Watson, his attorneys and the Cleveland Browns for their side of the story. All declined.

During a press conference in March to announce his joining the Browns, Watson denied any inappropriate behavior with the massage therapists.

Watson: “I never assaulted any woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman. I was raised to be genuine and respect everyone around me. I’ve never done the thing that these people are alleging. My mom and my aunties didn’t raise me that way.”

Leah Graham, a member of Watson’s legal team, sat for an interview after O’Brien’s segment was complete.

Graham: "It's 22 women. It's one lawyer. There's only one lawyer who was willing to take these cases. And as we know from Ashley Solis’ deposition, Mr. (Houston attorney Tony) Buzbee was not the first, probably not the second or third lawyer she went to, but he was the only one to take her case. Why? Not because it had merit, but because he would use these cases to increase his social media following and quite frankly to get on shows like this one.”

My reaction after watching the Real Sports segment? We weren’t in the room when the massage therapists worked on Watson. We weren’t in the grand jury room when evidence against Watson was presented. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what will happen if these cases go to trial.

Until then all we have is one big, lurid, embarrassing mess. In American courtrooms, defendants are presumed innocent. That’s often the opposite in the court of public opinion. We’ll just have to wait while the wheels of justice grind painfully slow.

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