NEW DEAL FOR CUNNINGHAM

Texans and ILB Zach Cunningham agree to contract extension

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty images

A little over a week ago, Zach Cunningham wore a blue Nike cut-off shirt that read, "H-TOWN," and featured a muscular Toro flexing behind Houston's skyline to his media availability. During his post-practice interview, the 25-year-old inside linebacker stated that he was not worried about his pending contract extension when asked by a local reporter.

As the head coach and general manager, the question emerged following Bill O'Brien's comment, that he wants to keep Cunningham a member of the Houston Texans for a long time. Ten days later, both O'Brien and Cunningham no longer have to wait to meet their aspiration.

Sunday afternoon, Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported that the Texans and Cunningham have agreed to a four-year extension worth $58 million, $23.5 million fully guaranteed. With $14.5 million per year, Cunningham's new deal places him as the tenth highest paid linebacker in the league — overtaking Jaguars' Myles Jack at $14.2 million per year.

"We want Zach on our team. We want Zach to be a Texan for a long time, no doubt about it," O'Brien said. "He's just a really good player. He's very instinctive. He's got good speed. He can do a lot of different things within our scheme. Really good guy. Same guy every day. We think that it would be great if he was with us for a long time."

After the Texans selected the Vanderbilt prodigy in the second round (No. 57 overall) in 2017, Cunningham has made significant strives over the past three seasons. While recording a career-high 2.0 sacks, Cunningham came close to receiving his first Pro-Bowl selection after leading the AFC in total tackles (142) during the 2019 season. But that was under Houston's old Defensive Coordinator, Romeo Crennel.

As he enters his fourth season, Cunningham's game has the opportunity to take another huge step playing under current D.C. Anthony Weaver. The new defensive schemes set in place by Weaver will capitalize on Cunningham's ability to stop the run — in which he led all linebackers with a 14.2 run-stop percentage in 2019. Cunningham says one of his top goals this season is to make "more plays" in pass coverage.

"Zach Cunningham is a guy who day in and day out just gets the job done and makes plays that always leave you shaking your head a little bit. You're like, 'how did he make that play?'" — Weaver said.

With one of their top defensive talents taken care of, it is time for the Texans to turn their contract talks to franchise quarterback, Deshaun Watson. It may not be as big of a deal as Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, but rest assured the Texans and Watson will break the bank.

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Yordan Alvarez's homer in Wednesday's game gave him 100 RBI on the season. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Winners of three straight, six of their last seven, and eight of their last ten, the Astros had the chance to move yet another game closer to clinching their playoff spot if they could secure the series with a win against the Angels on Wednesday. Even though it looked as though they were headed towards a loss in extra innings, they would ultimately come out ahead.

Final Score (12 innings): Astros 9, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 91-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yimi Garcia (4-9)

Losing Pitcher: Sam Selman (0-1)

Garcia goes six shutout innings

Although he didn't have swing-and-miss dominance in this start, Luis Garcia could still capitalize on a struggling Angels offense and post a shutout quality start against them. He allowed three walks and three hits throughout his outing but stranded all of them while getting outs on balls in play. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 79 P.

Alvarez reaches 100 RBI as Houston's offense keeps rolling

That performance had Garcia in line for the win, as two homers handed him a 3-0 advantage which he held. Houston once again used early offense to take a first-inning lead, as a leadoff walk by Jose Altuve turned into a monster 456-foot by Yordan Alvarez, pushing him to 100 RBI on the season. The score held at 2-0 until the top of the fifth, when Jason Castro led that frame off with a solo homer to extend the lead to three runs.

Extras in Anaheim

Phil Maton was first out of Houston's bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, but a single, double, and walk loaded the bases with no outs to put him in a jam. A lineout kept the runners put for the first out, but a single and a walk would make it a one-run game and left the bases loaded as Maton would get pulled.

Kendall Graveman entered to try and stop the bleeding, but after a force out at home to put that within reach, Jack Mayfield came through for Los Angeles with a go-ahead three-run double, giving the Angels their first lead of the series at 5-3. In the top of the eighth, a walk by Alex Bregman brought Alvarez back to the plate, and he would nearly miss a game-tying homer and instead got an RBI-single to make it 5-4.

Alvarez would still come in to tie the game, hustling home from second on an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel to knot things up 5-5. Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he sat down LA in order with two strikeouts. Still tied in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Pressly came in to force extras, and despite being shadowed by the winning run on the bases after a leadoff single, retired the next three batters to send the game to the tenth.

Astros keep battling and take it in the twelfth

Jake Meyers took second base as Houston's free runner in the top of the tenth, but he would go nowhere as the Astros went down in order, giving the Angels another chance at a walk-off. Instead of giving Shohei Ohtani a free pass immediately, Houston would let Blake Taylor throw two balls to him before giving him the intentional walk.

Taylor then gave up a single to load the bases with no outs, and after getting a force out at home for the first out, Yimi Garcia would replace him. Thanks to a great play by Chas McCormick, giving him multiple in the game, the Astros would live to see another inning as he would make a great catch in right field and then throw out Ohtani at home.

In the top of the eleventh, a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel moved Aledmys Diaz to third, but that's as close as Houston would come, leaving them stuck at five runs. After Garcia retired three more batters in the bottom of the eleventh, the game moved to the twelfth, where Houston would get back in front on an RBI single by Jake Meyers, then padded the new lead on a two-RBI double by Jose Altuve, who would also score on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it 9-5. Josh James came in and wrapped things up in the bottom half as Houston secured the series victory and reduced their magic number to two against Oakland and three against Seattle.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game series, and the last time these two teams will meet this year, will be an 8:38 PM Central start on Thursday. The expected pitching matchup is Alex Cobb (8-3, 3.59 ERA) for Los Angeles and Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.11 ERA) for Houston.

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