FALCON POINTS

The 5 most likable active athletes in Houston sports

Texans Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

When it comes to current athletes in Houston, there is no shortage of likable ones. Yes, the Astros cheating scandal did tarnish a few, but there are still some Astros who are easy to root for. There are also great players like James Harden, but he is a polarizing person. Some fans love him, some just can't root for him. The ones on this list are not only great at their sports, but they make an impact on their community. These are my five favorites based on that criteria. There are certainly many others who could have made this list, but when you limit it to five...

5) Lance McCullers, Astros pitcher: It's easy to forget about McCullers, who missed last season after Tommy John surgery. But he was a key contributor on the 2017 championship team, and had ace stuff before the surgery. It's possible his best years are ahead of him. Off the field, he and wife Kara have long been supporters of stray and homeless animals through the Lance McCullers Foundation. McCullers is active on social media and simply a really likable dude.

4) Carlos Correa, Astros shortstop: Correa has not quite reached the superstar level predicted for him, but he has still been very good, and he is young enough to still reach those heights. He was one of the few Astros to come off as open and honest after the cheating scandal, and he has been instrumental in raising money for Puerto Rico as well as Houston. He has helped distribute beds for children in the city of Houston with Texas Mattress Makers.

3) George Springer, Astros outfielder: Yes, the Astros dominate this list. Springer has been a terrific player, but he has also been an inspiration for stutterers as one himself. He donated money to Astros employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like the other two, unless you just hate cheaters, Springer is hard to root against.

2) Derrick Lewis, UFC heavyweight: The 35-year-old "Black Beast" is one of the best heavyweights in the UFC, an exciting fighter who is worth every pay per view penny. He is also charismatic, a terrific interview and an easy guy to like. He also went out after Harvey and pulled an estimated 100 people out of the water with his elevated truck. It's almost impossible not to root for this guy.

1) J.J. Watt, Texans: In a lot of people's minds, Watt can do no wrong in Houston. He has been the best player in franchise history, and his amazing efforts after Harvey were the stuff of legends. His wife, Kealia Ohai Watt, is also a popular athlete, although she no longer plays in the city. Still, they make for a sports power couple. Yes, Watt can occasionally come off the wrong way, and injuries have slowed him in recent years, but in general, he has been one of the highest profile athletes in Houston history and has made unprecedented impacts both on and off the field.

HONORABLE MENTION

Just missing out on this list, in order, are Jose Altuve, Justin Verlander, Simone Biles, Deshaun Watson, Russel Westbrook.

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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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