RANKING THE EXPERIENCES

When it comes to playoff atmosphere, one Houston team stands out

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Over the past couple of years I have been lucky enough to attend multiple playoff games for all 3 of Houston's major sports teams. My attendance at the Texans playoff game this past Saturday completed that big 3 circuit and inspired me to write this little piece ranking the playoff atmospheres for all 3 teams.

Third Place – Texans

Given the supposed reign as sports kings of this town I was struck by the lack of intensity at NRG on Saturday. I am not talking about the players, though their lackluster performance certainly contributed to the feeling in the stadium later in the game. Overall the stadium just lacked the buzz I have felt at Astros and Rockets playoff games. Maybe it is because the Texans weren't largely perceived as championship contenders unlike the other two teams. However, I would think the seemingly rabid appetite for football in Houston would have countered that. Quite honestly this playoff game felt no different than the regular season game against the Dolphins I attended this year. The loudest I heard the stadium is when they played "I've got friends in low places" over the PA when the Texans were down 21-0. I'm definitely not one of those "you aren't fan enough" kind of guys but it was surprising to feel the level of disinterest in the stadium from kick-off on Saturday.

2nd Place – Rockets

The Rocket have always struggled getting people in their seats for tip-off, or for most of the first quarter for that matter. This was no different in the playoffs. The big screen operator had to put those not wearing their free t-shirt on camera to publicly shame them to join the crowd of red (or whatever color the shirt was that night). However despite the struggle to get fans to arrive on time and wear the desired color, once butts were in the seats Toyota Center got loud. The intensity on the court, especially when 3 pointers were falling, translated seamlessly to the crowd. Despite the (stupidly) long duration of the NBA playoffs the zeal of the fans never seemed to wane. Even at second round games against Utah last season fans were engaged and making themselves heard. Overall Toyota Center has an underrated playoff atmosphere.

1st Place – Astros

Minute Maid in the playoffs is still the loudest stadium I have ever been in, including college and professional football games. People generally show up on time and the tension before the first pitch is palpable. Every hit or strikeout elicits explosive fan reactions. Additionally, I found the crowd on their feet far more than I ever have at football games. Baseball gets the rap of taking too long and being boring, but playoff baseball is an entirely different animal. I can confidently say the loudest sound I have ever heard in my life is when Alex Bregman hit the game winning double in Game 5 of the World Series (this includes the crack of thunder that blasted me from a lightning strike about 100 feet away). I thought my eardrums had burst. A playoff game at Minute Maid makes the playoff games I have experienced at NRG seem like they were rec-league competitions.

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Houston looked much more like themselves

Astros return to form in win over Angels at home

Cristian Javier was impressive Thursday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Hoping to avoid spiraling further out of control, the Astros turned the page from their disappointing road trip and the recent stretch of games. They hoped to start this new homestand on a good note, welcoming in the Angels for four games of this eight-game stint at Minute Maid Park.

Houston would get the much-needed win, with their offense coming alive early in the game to put up big innings, which they rode to the victory thanks in part to a great start by Cristian Javier.

Final Score: Astros 8, Angels 2

Astros' Record: 8-10, fifth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Alex Cobb (1-1)

Astros' offense starts clicking early

Houston would grab the early momentum, despite leaving the bases loaded in the first inning. They would get a leadoff double by Aledmys Diaz in the bottom of the second, followed by an RBI triple by Myles Straw to jump in front 1-0. They made it a three-run inning, with an RBI by Carlos Correa then a bases-loaded RBI-walk by Yuli Gurriel, though for consecutive innings would leave three runners stranded on base.

Correa drove in another in the bottom of the next inning, getting an RBI single to push the lead to four runs, then would come in on a two-run single by Alex Bregman, who made it 6-0. That set things up nicely for Cristian Javier, who was on the mound trying to take advantage of the opportunity for another start.

Javier has an electric start



Javier was electric over the first three innings, including getting eight of the first nine outs by strikeout while allowing only a walk and double during that span. He would have longer innings in the next two, but in both cases would keep the Angels off the board, finishing in line for the win. His final line: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 98 P.

Houston gets the much-needed win

Meanwhile, Houston's offense kept scoring. They pushed the lead two runs further over the fourth and fifth, getting a run in each with another RBI each for Straw and Bregman. With Javier's night done, Bryan Abreu was first out of the Astros bullpen, and despite allowing a controversial two-run home run to Albert Pujols, of all people, that looked to be a foul ball, got through the inning.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the seventh but would get just one out while hitting a batter and allowing a single before Dusty Baker brought in Brooks Raley to face the heavy left-handed part of the Angels lineup. Raley would get through it, sending things to the seventh-inning stretch with the six-run lead intact.

Raley would get another out before Joe Smith would finish that inning in the top of the eighth. Ryan Pressly, who has been starved for work lately with no save opportunities, would close things out in the ninth as Houston would start this series off with a win.

Up Next: Game two of this four-game set will be another 7:10 PM start on Friday night. Andrew Heaney (1-1, 5.65 ERA) will be on the mound for the Angels, while Zack Greinke (2-1, 2.81 ERA) will look to repeat the success of his last start; an eight-inning shutout performance for the Astros.

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