THE PALLILOG

Pallilo's View: Why aren't the Rockets creating more of a buzz?

James Harden is doing historic things. Rockets.com

Houston is in a bit of a sports malaise phase right now. That is in largest part on the 4-8 Texans, playing meaningless games other than to employees, their family members, close friends, and of course…gamblers. It certainly isn’t on the Rockets, their phenomenal start at 19-4 headed by the best offensive player on the planet these days in James Harden. So the other part of the Sports Houston ennui is on…Houston. On the individual level there are always plentiful reasons (not excuses, reasons) to not be in to a particular team, but on the broader scale it’s a bit of an indictment of a sports town when a team kicking tail and taking names has very little buzz attached to it.

No doubt the Astros’ dramatic run to World Series glory drained the emotional tank for many. It’ll be tough to ever have a Houston team generate the emotional investment that so many poured into the Astros earning history. So tough that I doubt that the Texans winning a Super Bowl would match it.  I just hope if the Rockets are playing in June most at least deem them worthy of paying attention.

The Chicago Bulls are an atrocity this season and going on 20 years removed from their last championship, yet they sell out every game in an arena much larger than Toyota Center. The Sacramento Kings last made the playoffs and last finished a winning season in 2006. The Kings are outdrawing the Rockets this season, barely, but they are. Yes the Kings are the only game in Sac-town but it’s a small town compared to Houston. The Dallas Mavericks have sold out every game this season. The Mavs stink. They stunk last season and haven’t won a playoff series since winning the championship in 2011. Uncomfortable reality for the south end of I-45: Dallas rates as a better sports town than Houston. Heck, the Rangers outdrew the Astros this year. And Dallas has the NHL. Pull it off Tilman Fertitta!

This is a Rockets town, when the Rockets win big. Wait, they are winning big…and…  

There is some hangover from the way the Rockets went out last year. James Harden was so awful in the humiliating elimination loss vs. the Spurs that until there is on court atonement in the postseason some just won’t pray at the Rockets’ altar. But that seems throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Three guys in the NBA are averaging 22 points and seven assists: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. Harden put up at least 22 points and at least seven assists in the Rockets first 22 games! Durability is a component of greatness. The three seasons before this one Harden missed two games total: one because of a suspension for a below the belt shot to LeBron, the other because the Rockets basically made him sit out one late last season.

Harden is ascending toward all-time top 10 shooting guard status.  Michael Jordan is the unchallenged #1. Then come in either order Jerry West and Kobe Bryant. Then the tier with Dwyane Wade, Clyde Drexler, George Gervin, Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, old-timer shout-out Sam Jones, and a few other plausibles. To Houston-ize it: James Harden or Tracy McGrady?

So cool that Jose Altuve and JJ Watt this week shared Sports Illustrated Sports Person of the Year honors. Not the first time two guys in different sports in the same city share it. In 1979 Willie Stargell and Terry Bradshaw won as Pirate and Steeler. Altuve and Watt get there in some ways at diametrically opposite points in their careers. What a 2017 for Altuve. MVP, World Series champion, at or darn near the peak of his vast abilities. Altuve does good works off the field but fundamentally his SI salute is for his season on the field. 2017 for Watt on the other hand is the lowest point of his playing career. Just last week walking for the first time since his October tibial plateau fracture, on top of two major back surgeries, it’s unlikely that Watt will ever be an on-field superstar again. But what he did in the aftermath of Harvey laying waste to Houston, a noble goal of raising 200-thousand dollars for relief efforts, multiplied more than 185 times to more than 37 million raised, all on the back reverence for Watt?  Superduperstar.

Altuve has work to do to be a Hall of Famer. You know, if he bangs out 200 hits for another nine consecutive seasons Altuve would total 10 fewer hits than Craig Biggio? Altuve is the best second baseman since Joe Morgan, who is generally considered one of the four best second basemen of all time. None of the others (Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie) played more recently than 80 years ago.

Watt meanwhile is probably a Hall of Famer already. With Terrell Davis in, Watt’s three Defensive Player of the Year Awards (only Lawrence Taylor matches that) should do it. Watt has no shot to match the quantitative stats of the all-time greats. He has more than 125 fewer sacks than Reggie White and Bruce Smith. Watt’s 76 sacks are exactly half as many as has Julius Peppers.  Ray Childress finished with 76 ½. But during his window of greatness Watt could hang with anybody who ever played. 15 years from now is there a Texan whose career you’d rather have had than Watt’s? The Texans sure need that answer to be DeShaun Watson. Or Rick Smith’s 26 years as General Manager will really have underwhelmed.

BUZZER BEATERS: 1. Thumbs up for egg nog, fruitcake not so much   2. LaVar Ball: Shut up and go away.   3. More appealing than committing to three hours of Texans-Niners: Bronze-watching paint dry.  Silver-watching grass grow.  Gold-snail races.

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Houston's magic number stays at 2

Astros drop series finale to Mariners after rough start by Greinke

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With their magic number at 2 to secure their spot in the 2020 MLB postseason, the Astros returned to T-Mobile Park in Seattle for this three-game series' finale and rubber game. Here are the highlights from the game:

Final Score: Mariners 3, Astros 2.

Record: 28-28, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Nick Margevicius (2-3, 4.57 ERA)

Losing pitcher: Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA).

Greinke unable to complete five innings

While the Astros were being held scoreless, the Mariners were putting up runs on Zack Greinke. They took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first with back-to-back singles followed by an RBI-double with one out. Greinke would stop the damage there, then looked to settle in over the next few frames.

He allowed just one baserunner in the second through fourth innings, a one-out single in the bottom of the fourth. Then, in the fifth, the Mariners would knock him out of the game by getting a one-out single that would come around to score on a two-out RBI-double, followed by an RBI-single to extend the lead to 3-0. Greinke faced one more batter, allowing a single before Dusty Baker would take the ball and move to the bullpen. His final line: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 0 HR, 92 P.

Astros try a late rally, come up short

On the other end, the Astros were unable to break through against Nick Margevicius, getting just one hit and two walks through the first four innings. They had a chance to get on the board in the top of the fifth, starting the inning with back-to-back singles before a walk loaded the bases with one out to turn the lineup over. They'd come up empty, though, with George Springer striking out before a long flyball to center by Jose Altuve to end the inning.

After finishing the fifth for Greinke, Andre Scrubb returned for a scoreless sixth, working around a one-out walk. Still 3-0, Blake Taylor took over on the mound in the bottom of the seventh, erasing a leadoff single and two-out walk to keep Seattle from extending their lead. Houston had another chance to score in the top of the eighth, getting two runners in scoring position, but again would strand them.

Cy Sneed was the next reliever out for the Astros, working around a two-out walk to send the game on to the ninth. The Astros would avoid the shutout, getting a two-RBI single by pinch-hitting Josh Reddick in the top of the ninth to make it a one-run game at 3-2. That's as close as they'd come, though, as the Mariners would eventually get the final out to take the series and keep the Astros' magic number stagnant at 2.


Up Next: There is one series left in the regular season for Houston, and it awaits them in Arlington with a four-game series against the Rangers, who are well eliminated from playoff contention. The first of the four games will start at 7:05 PM Central on Thursday with a pitching matchup of Lance Lynn (6-2, 2.53 ERA) for Texas and Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.33 ERA) for the Astros.

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