A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Watt joins elite company

More recognition for J.J. Watt. Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

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The Time 100.

It’s the iconic magazine’s annual list of the most influential people in the world. And when the list was released Thursday morning, congratulations started rolling in for J.J. Watt.

The only surprise? That it was Roger Federer who graces this week’s cover. Not Watt.

No disrespect to the greatest tennis player in the game and a man whose philanthropy off the court goes relatively unnoticed, but this was Watt’s year.

The Texans’ defensive end touched the heart and soul, not just of the city of Houston, but the world when he turned to Twitter after Hurricane Harvey devastated the area with more than 50 inches of rain with a video and the following message:

Recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey will be massive.
We must come together to help rebuild our communities.http://YouCaring.com/JJWatt 

 His goal? To raise $200,000. He raised over $37 million in just a few weeks.

 We all knew what the three-time NFL Defensive Player could do on the field, but what he did for Houston – and continues to do – is just as legendary. He has been giving back since he was playing at Wisconsin, but what he did last year caught the eye of everyone, earning him the inaugural Houston Sports Awards Sportsmanship Award, as well the NFL’s highest honor - Walter Payton Man of the Year.

 Now, just months away from training camp, he’s on the way back from a freak injury and we’re already wondering what the 2018 season has in store. He is a team leader and, when he’s at this best, a devastating defensive force.

 But you know that. Just like everyone else, you’re thinking about what might be for the Texans this year with a healthy Watt and the return of quarterback Deshaun Watson.

So this Time 100 got us thinking.

Who are the most influential sports figures in Houston right now?

My list? Definitely not a slam dunk, but here’s what I came up with.

It starts with Watt, who could probably run for mayor when Sylvester Turner leaves office and win.

There’s nothing a healthy Watt can’t do on the field and now we know what he can do off of it. He’s a Houston’s rock star – a man who shared the passion for literacy with the late Barbara Bush, a guy who steals the show in commercials and makes the day for fans when he flashes that signature smile. That his girlfriend Kealia Ohai, who is also coming off surgery, is the team captain for the Houston Dash? Just one more reason people love him.

My other top four? Well, here they are in no certain order:

* Tilman Fertitta. The new owner of the Houston Rockets brought a lightning bolt of energy and swagger to a loaded roster that now seems destined for the NBA finals. His real estate dealings, restaurant empire – Landry’s is one of the country’s largest restaurant corporations – and his television show Billion Dollar Buyer made him a national celebrity before the Rockets. And, as chairman of the University of Houston System’s Board of Regents, his passion for his alma mater  has turned UH into a into a Tier One institution and put UH athletics back in the national spotlight. His Post Oak Motors and new Post Oak Hotel property just add to his influence in the city.

* Jose Altuve. Who doesn’t love the Astros’ second baseman? At 5-foot-6, the native of Venezuela may be the shortest player in Major League Baseball, but he also packs the biggest punch. Last year’s American League MVP  and Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year was also the league’s batting champ and helped lead the Astros to the World Series title. Every time he stepped to the plate, you waited for the magic last season as he hit.346 on the year with 204 hits and 81 RBI with 24 homeruns.  Hit .472 at Minute Maid in the playoffs and .310 with 7 homeruns in the playoffs. Can he top that? We’ll find out.

* Justin Verlander. No one has come into an MLB clubhouse and immediately commanded as much respect from his new team as the Astros’ ace did last fall. And no one has captured the hearts of fans as quickly, either. Following an August 31 trade from Detroit, Verlander stepped into the Astros starting rotation, went 4-1 and helped lead the team to a World Series title. A few days later, he was on a plane to Italy where he married super model girlfriend Kate Upton. Talk about a rock star. The guy is made for the red carpet and has a 4-handicap on the golf course. And when the Astros reported for spring training this year? No one was more excited.

* Deshaun Watson. Two words – scary good. Or unlimited potential. Or, make one up yourself. We had what felt like the briefest of glimpses into what Watson could do as a starter last season before he went down with a torn ACL. He was leading the league with 21 touchdowns and seemed headed toward Offensive Player of the Year as a rookie. He is still rehabbing his knee, but fans already have visions of Watson-to- all-pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins dancing in their heads. He only started weeks 2-8 last year and threw for 19 touchdowns and completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,699 yards.

There. You have my top 5. There are plenty of others to consider for sure, buy hey, I said only 5. 

Feel free to chime in and send us yours on Twitter - @HOUsportsAwards.

We’ll compile the top submissions and put it to a vote!


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The losing streak continues

Mariners get walk-off win over short-staffed Astros

Alex De Goti had an impressive debut. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

After a brutal homestand capped off by losing five players to the IL for health and safety protocols, the once 5-1 Astros brought their now 6-6 record to T-Mobile park in Seattle to try and right the ship. They'd have to do it with new and young players in the lineup using the "next man up" mentality to get some wins against the first-place Mariners.

Though the young bats would work themselves into a lead most of the night, Houston's bullpen wouldn't be able to hold the Mariners down, with Seattle ultimately walking things off in the ninth.

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 5

Astros' Record: 6-7, fourth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Anthony Misiewicz (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (0-1)

After a quiet start, Houston gets three in the fifth

After cruising through the Astros through the first four innings, allowing only a walk over that span, Houston was able to put up a big inning against Yusei Kikuchi in the top of the fifth. Carlos Correa notched the first hit of the night, followed by a walk by Taylor Jones to put two on base.

That brought Alex De Goti, making his major-league debut, to the plate and, in his second career at-bat, would get his first hit and RBI, bringing in Correa from second on a single. A second run would come on the same play on a throwing error, then Chaz McCormick made it a three-run inning with an RBI-double, putting Houston out front 3-0.

Urquidy comes an out shy of a quality start

Meanwhile, Jose Urquidy was doing well through five innings. On track for a much-needed quality start, the Mariners would tag him in the bottom of the sixth, getting three-straight hits to bring in two runs to lead off the frame and leaving a runner on second base with no outs.

Urquidy would rebound to get the next two batters on strikeouts, but at 90 pitches and with a left-handed hitter up next, Dusty Baker would bring in lefty Brooks Raley to try and get out of the inning with the one-run lead intact. Raley would do his job, putting Uruidy's line final: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 90 P.

Teams trade two-run seventh innings

The young bats for Houston struck again in the top of the seventh, with Jones and De Goti leading it off with back-to-back singles before Jason Castro would load the bases with a walk. With two outs, Aledmys Diaz would push the lead back to three with a two-RBI single, making it 5-2.

With Raley out after facing his one batter, next out of Houston's bullpen was Bryan Abreu to help maintain Houston's lead. Instead, he would give up two runs on two hits and a walk while getting just two outs before Baker moved on to Blake Taylor, who would get the last out of the seventh with Houston hanging on to a one-run lead at 5-4.

Mariners get the walk-off win

Taylor remained in the game in the bottom of the eighth, and after getting an out, would allow a game-tying solo home run to Evan White before injuring himself trying to field an infield single. Ryne Stanek entered and finished off the eighth, sending the tie game to the ninth.

After Houston came up empty in the top half, Stanek remained in the game in the bottom of the ninth, attempting to force extras. Back-to-back walks ended Stanek's night, with the Astros hoping Ryan Pressly could bail them out. He couldn't, though, giving up the walk-off hit as the Mariners would take the opener, 6-5.

Up Next: Game two of this three-game set will start an hour earlier on Saturday, with first pitch at 8:10 PM Central. Zack Greinke (1-1, 4.08 ERA) will try to rebound from a poor start his last time out for the Astros, while the Mariners will hand the ball to Chris Flexen (1-0, 4.50 ERA).

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