THE PALLILOG

The weekend that could have been for the Astros

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It would have been a battle of the reformed cheaters series this weekend with the Astros and the Red Sox playing at Fenway Park. Oh well. Memorial Day will mark the end of two full months of the baseball regular season without any baseball. I'm. Slowly. Going. Crazy.

While the 2017 World Series champs won't be playing the 2018 World Series champs, the 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals will hold a virtual ring ceremony Sunday. MLB Network will televise it live basically because it has nothing better to show. Sunday is May 24. The Nationals woke up May 24 last year with their record at 19-31.

Alex Bregman has been sitting on 99 career home runs longer than anyone would have remotely envisioned in February. I'm sure Bregman doesn't have 99 problems, but he decided his agent was one. Bregman has dropped agent Brodie Scoffield, evidently in large part because Scoffield took his business into the Klutch Sports agency fold in which LeBron James has an interest. One of LeBron's production companies will be putting together a documentary tentatively called "Sign Language." Correct, about the 2017 Astros' scheming.

NBA

For a guy nicknamed "The Truth" Paul Pierce came across as full of baloney more than truth this week when he was dismissive of James as one of the five greatest players in NBA history. Magic Johnson is of course a legend of the game, as is the late Kobe Bryant. Neither was greater than LeBron. Truth: Paul Pierce grew up a Lakers fan in Inglewood, site of the Forum where Magic played all his home games. Anyone around here who wants to make the "Magic and Kobe both finished with five rings while LeBron only has three argument" must then accept that Hakeem Olajuwon automatically rates behind Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan.

Rockets Rewind

This was a fun week on the calendar for some very happy anniversaries in Rockets' history. Wednesday marked the 25th of Mario Elie's "Kiss of Death" shot in game seven of the Western Conference semifinals at Phoenix. Before Mario's make, brilliant Suns' point guard Kevin Johnson missed a free throw leaving the score tied at 110. K.J. had been 21 for 21 at the foul line for the game, but missed attempt number 22. Huge difference having the ball tied vs. down one.

Even though Elie's shot wasn't a buzzer beater, since the "Kiss" was a critical moment on the path to the Rockets' second championship, I lean to it as the most dramatic moment in franchise history. There is a strong argument though for Thursday's memory lane stroll, the 34th anniversary of Ralph Sampson's twisting foul line jumper at the buzzer to dethrone the Lakers in the Western Conference Final. The Rockets won that series four games to one, winning game five on Ralph's heroics after Hakeem Olajuwon had been ejected midway through the third quarter after throwing down with Lakers' fringe guy Mitch Kupchak.

Friday's anniversary pales in comparison to those two but is far from inconsequential. In the Rockets' very next game after the "Kiss of Death," Robert Horry hit his only field goal of the game with :06.5 on the clock to give the Rockets a 94-93 win at San Antonio in game one of the Western Conference Final. Sean Elliott missed a contested eight-foot runner before the buzzer for the Spurs. Just before Horry's shot Elliott missed two free throws (the second looked very choke-y). That Rockets-Spurs series is remembered for Hakeem Olajuwon's decimation of regular season Most Valuable Player David Robinson. Somewhat lost from memory banks a quarter century later, the road team won the first five games of the series before the Rockets closed it out at The Summit in game six.

Final Stretch

With NASCAR having returned last weekend I don't know whether that means the Indy 500 was prematurely postponed, but that Memorial Day weekend tradition will not happen. August 23rd is the rescheduled date.

Doubt I'll watch much of it, but I'll take Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady over Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning in their 10 million dollar coronavirus relief fundraising match Sunday. Hopefully zingers are flying around like golf balls because otherwise watching four guys walking a round is not very exciting.

Buzzer Beaters:1. So Carlos Correa claims to hope to try MMA someday. No chuckling. It's not as if he's injury prone or anything. 2. "The Last Dance" was fantastic, but are we not all now a little bit "Jordan-ed" out? 3. Top sex symbols of the 90s (sorry Carmen Electra, at least you beat them all today): Bronze-Heather Locklear Silver-Cindy Crawford Gold-Pamela Anderson

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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