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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After rallying in the ninth inning in Game 1 to take the pivotal opener of this best-of-three ALWC series, the Astros were in the driver's seat to try and end the series on Wednesday with another win at Target Field. Here is a quick rundown of Game 2:

Final Score: Astros 3, Twins 1.

Series: HOU Wins 2-0.

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier.

Losing Pitcher: Cody Stashak.

Houston gets the first hit and first run in the fourth

Through the first three innings, neither team could get a hit off of Jose Berrios or Jose Urquidy, though the Twins did load the bases in the bottom of the first on two walks and an error, but Urquidy would strand the runners before getting 1-2-3 innings in the second and third.

Meanwhile, the Astros lineup was retired in order in three perfect innings by Berrios. That changed in the top of the fourth when Houston would get back-to-back two-out walks to set up the first hit of the game, an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker to give the Astros a 1-0 lead.

Dusty Baker makes another early call to the bullpen before Twins tie it up

Urquidy was able to keep the 1-0 lead by working around a two-out single in the bottom of the fourth, the first hit for the Twins. He returned in the fifth, allowing a leadoff single before a strikeout for the first out. Dusty Baker would pull another early hook, like Greinke the day prior, dipping into his bullpen early to end Urquidy's day at just 76 pitches in the fifth. His final line: 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 76 P.

Brooks Raley was who Baker called on to face the top of the Twins' lineup. He would walk his first batter, putting runners on first and second, get a strikeout for the second out, then allow an RBI-double to Nelson Cruz that almost scored a second, go-ahead run. Instead, the runner was out at home thanks to a terrific defensive play by Carlos Correa, bulleting the ball to Maldonado at home, who made a great tag to save the run and keep it tied 1-1.

Correa homers, Astros advance to ALDS

After Raley completed the fifth inning for Urquidy, Cristian Javier was the next reliever out to begin the bottom of the sixth. He would toss a 1-2-3 frame, sending the tie game to the seventh. In the top of the seventh, Carlos Correa broke the tie with a long, loud two-out solo home run to center-field, putting the Astros back in front 2-1.

Javier held on to the one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh by working around a leadoff walk, then returned for the eighth. He would get through it scoreless, despite allowing a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz, who would be pinch-ran for by the speedy Byron Buxton. After a strikeout for out number two, Javier would catch Buxton between first and second base in a rundown, getting the big final out of the inning.

Houston added insurance in the top of the ninth, getting two on base before an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, his second of the day to make it 3-1. That left things up to closer Ryan Pressly, making his first appearance of the postseason. He would notch the save, advancing the Astros to the ALDS for their fourth-straight year.

Up Next: The Astros will now have a few days off to travel to the west coast before starting their ALDS with the winner of the A's / White Sox ALWC series. Game 1 of their ALDS will be on Monday, October 5th, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, with start time TBD.

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