A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Awards night is a big hit

Jose Altuve and J.J. Watt picked have been on the cover of SI and now are Houston Sports Awards winners. Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

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Oh, what a night.

It was glitzy, glittery, show-stopping and head-turning. Everywhere you looked there was a Hall of Famer or a budding superstar. There were two Heisman Trophy winners in attendance and three World Championship teams represented. There were high school stars, fans that set the standard for team loyalty and coaches, general managers and owner who shape their teams’ futures.

There was something for each of the more than 1,000 who turned out for the inaugural Houston Sports Awards Thursday night at the Hilton Americas.

Maybe it was a red-carpet selfie with a hero or a conversation with an old friend. Maybe it was surprise entrance or a face that just stirred memories of great Houston sports moments.

But there were two things for everyone. First, seeing Houston’s iconic 34s – Nolan Ryan, Earl Campbell and Hakeem Olajuwon -- together under one roof for the first time. And, second, the news that those three would be the first honorees in a planned Houston Sports Hall of Fame.

"Houston is such a great sports town, such great fans, and as we were dreaming and envisioning what tonight would look like, it just kind of fell into place that we should also have a Hall of Fame,” said Harris County – Houston Sports Authority CEO Janis Schmees-Burke.

"There will be a sidewalk with their name and a star with their team and their number. It’s between where the House of Blues starts and through that (row of restaurants). Eventually, that sidewalk will be full.’’

The announcement – and unveiling of the 34s Houston Hall of Fame rings – capped a night when the World Champion Houston Astros ran the tables with five awards. Jose Altuve won Papa John’s Athlete of the Year, manager A.J. Hinch won POWERADE Coach of the Year, the 2017 World Series won Event of the Year, Alex Bregman’s walk-off single in Game 5 of the Series won Moment of the Year and General Manager Jeff Luhnow was named Executive of the Year.

The award was especially touching to Hinch, who lost his father Dennis 25 years ago to the day.

“To share this award on this particular day in this city after this year means the world to me,’’ Hinch said. “I’ll be forever grateful.”

Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were there to present Altuve with his award.

“It’s an honor to receive this award from two Hall of Famers,’’ Altuve said. “This year has been unbelievable – the World Series and everything we did – because of the fame and because Houston is the best city in the world. And I am happy to be able to call Houston my home.’’

Former Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander was there to accept the first Lifetime Achievement Award.

Houston Texans’ star and Walter Payton Man of the Year J.J. Watt, who helped raise more than $37 million for Hurricane Harvey relief, could not attend, but did a video acceptance for the Academy Sports + Outdoors Sportsmanship Award.

The night blended the new stars in with those graying legends of the game, all of whom wore No. 34. Those men are still some of the best to ever play the game and, around Houston, are known simply as Nolan, Earl and Hakeem.

Ryan is one of the best pitchers ever to take the mound. He is the all-time strikeout king and still holds the record for most no-hitters with seven. He grew up in the Houston and was legend by the time he came to the Astros in 1980 after playing with the New York Mets and California Angels.

Olajuwon was the leader of the world’s tallest fraternity at the University of Houston – Phi Slama Jama – then went on to become one of the great centers in NBA history, leading the Rockets to back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995. He was surprised by former Cougar and Rockets teammates including Dikembe Mutombo and Clyde Drexler.

Campbell ran his way into history, winning the Heisman his senior season at Texas, then carrying the load for Bum Phillips’ Houston Oilers. A bruising runner, Campbell simply wore down and punished defenses.

Like Ryan and Olajuwon, he was humbled by not just the honor, but also the outpouring of love from Houston and the fans. He summed the honor up in two sentences.

“You people think I made a difference in your life?’’ he said. “You made a difference in my life.’’

Other honorees were Carson Riley, the 12-year-old Astros fan who almost caught Carlos Correa’s homerun ball during Game 2 of the American League Championship Series – a month after Riley’s brother had died in a tragic accident; Houston sophomore Ed Oliver, who was named College Athlete of the Year and St. Pius quarterback Grant Gunnell who was honored as High School Athlete of the Year.



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Houston's winning streak moves to six

Eighth-inning rally powers Astros to series sweep over Rangers

Yuli Gurriel brought in the go-ahead run late in Sunday's game. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Winners in the first three games of this series and their last five games overall, the Astros continued their climb towards the A's for first place in the AL West. They completed the four-game sweep, ending a successful homestand on a positive note before heading on the road.

Final Score: Astros 6, Rangers 2

Astros' Record: 24-17, tied for first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Brooks Raley (2-2)

Losing Pitcher: Joely Rodriguez (1-2)

Astros strike first, McCullers Jr. goes six scoreless

After the Rangers went down 1-2-3 in the top of the first, Houston grabbed an early lead off the bat of Alex Bregman. He provided the third single of the inning, a one-out RBI to put the Astros in front 1-0, a score which would hold steady for a while. Another run didn't come across until the bottom of the fifth when Houston would load the bases with one out when Carlos Correa would get an RBI groundball to double the lead to 2-0.

Lance McCullers Jr. did well with the small lead, backing up his recent eight-inning gem with a quality start against Texas. He allowed a couple of hits each in the third and fourth but would erase the runners with no damage allowed. The Rangers threatened in the top of the sixth with a leadoff double before the runner moved to third on a wild pitch, putting him in a great position with no outs. McCullers Jr. would come away unscathed, finishing the inning and his day by retiring the next three batters. His final line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 95 P.

Rangers tie it against Scrubb

First out of Houston's bullpen was Andre Scrubb, and he would not fare as well as the Astros starter. A leadoff single turned into a two-run game-tying homer, making it 2-2 before Scrubb would sit down the next three in order. Still tied in the top of the eighth, Brooks Raley had a terrific inning, striking out the three batters he faced.

Houston rallies ahead in the eighth for the four-game sweep

The top of Houston's order mounted a threat in the bottom of the eighth, loading the bases with one out to try and regain the lead. Yuli Gurriel would come through with the go-ahead at-bat, getting a sac fly to put the Astros back in front 3-2. A two-out walk loaded the bases again, setting up Chas McCormick to provide two insurance runs on a two-RBI single.

Myles Straw added one more on an RBI single, making it a four-run game at 6-2 heading to the ninth. Enoli Paredes made his long-awaited return from the IL, appearing for the first time since April 8th to try and close things out in the ninth. He tossed a scoreless inning, finishing off the four-game sweep, extending Houston's winning streak to six games, and keeping them in step with Oakland for the AL West lead.

Up Next: After a day off on Monday, the Astros will begin a six-game road trip on Tuesday. They'll kick off a three-game set in Oakland against the A's at 8:40 PM, an exciting matchup to determine who will head into the weekend atop the division. While Cristian Javier (3-1, 3.08 ERA) is the expected starter for Houston, Oakland has not yet determined their rotation for the series.

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