By NEAL FARMER
The Astros were celebrating a magic number of zero on Sunday, after recently acquired flamethrower Justin Verlander hammered out 10 strikeouts in six innings to lead the team to a 7-1 victory over Seattle. The win gave Houston a division title, its 91st win in 2017, and momentum going into the playoffs. Houston has been in first place since April 14, and never came close to relinquishing that lead.
The post-game locker room was one of champagne-slinging celebration, and the throats at AT&T SportsNet Southwest were giddy in talking about how Houston got there – Verlander, getting a spark from newly acquired Cameron Maybin, not losing a large lead in the division despite a spate of injuries, Jose Altuve having an MVP-type season and the return of starting pitching after injuries.
Then manager A.J. Hinch popped into the camera shot and said, “See you in October,” and ran away.
In a nutshell, that is why Houston’s magic number is now 11.
True, the Astros had an old magic number of one before Sunday’s game to make the playoffs. But now, all that matters is the truly magic number of winning 11 games in October for a World Series Championship.
After their Seattle win, Houston was 1.5 games behind Cleveland for the best record in the AL. But all the records go out the window when the playoffs start. Remember the 2001 Seattle Mariners team that had the most wins ever in Major League Baseball? Seattle was 116-46, which tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs for most all-time victories. The Mariners lost in the first round of the playoffs that year. Shooting for New York, Boston and-or Cleveland is Houston’s goal, not 100 wins.
The American League West division crown won on Sunday is the first for Houston since 2001 when Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were in the lineup. It was helped in no small feat by players who are having great seasons.
The only disappointment on Sunday after the divisional championship with champagne flowing in the locker room? No Kate Upton sighting in a wet T-shirt, only Verlander.
WHITHER GOEST THE WRs? – I will readily admit that I thought the Houston Texans defense would be similar to last year, and that the offense would be better. That would mean the Texans could likely go 10-6 this year instead of their perennial 9-7 mark. But there is one area that looks like it will bring the Texans offense down below last year – wide receivers.
Is DeAndre Hopkins it?
It doesn’t help that three tight ends are injured, and the tight end position was brought back as a pass-catching weapon last year rather than just a glorified blocker. But it looked like last week that the only receiver option was D-Hop. Hopkins caught seven passes for 73 yards. The second-leading receiver was running back Lamar Miller, who caught three passes for 26 yards.
I thought Hopkins showed a lack of speed by employing the handwork of a ninja to get himself free by pushing off from opposing defensive backs — mainly Pacman Jones. He was flagged for one offensive pass interference penalty, but it could have been more. And I also saw D-Hop tapping his chest several times with the international football symbol for “my bad” during the game.
There was one great play that involved Hopkins. With 7:11 remaining in the game, there were no safeties in the defensive backfield and Hopkins took off down the seam. It was a sure touchdown, but Jones tackled Hopkins for a pass interference penalty. It was a great play – by Jones. It cost him penalty yardage but saved a score.
Deshaun Watson appears to have played his way into being the starter at QB. But if there is no WR threat for the Texans, the defenses will stack the line to stop Watson’s aggressive freelancing.
I guess we will have to quote the old football saying, that the longer something goes without happening, then the sooner it will happen (gospel of John Madden). But I don’t think the Texans can go much longer without getting more than one receiver involved in the passing game. Like I said last week, the Texans do not look better than a .500 team at this point, especially if they do not expand options at WR.
TEN WORST FREE AGENT QB SINGINGS – Yes, our Texans are represented, but they are nowhere close to the number of Cleveland Browns on this list.
FEMALE FOOTBALL PLAYER – They say that the first female pro baseball player will be a pitcher, who has a lot of movement on her throws. The first female pro football player, according to this story, likely will be a kicker.
ESPN’S COLLEGE FOOTBALL RANKINGS – Alabama is No. 1 again, and Clemson No. 2. I think Penn State is too high as No. 5, and Oklahoma (No. 3) and Oklahoma State (No. 4) will eliminate the other. Oklahoma State will have to prove itself, because the Cowboys seem to fold their tent when they play the Sooners.
CLASSICAL NOTES: All right, we are going for the hard stuff today – opera. Listen to Puccini: Nessun Dorma, from Turandot. It’s one of the top 100 pieces ever written. And an added benefit is if anyone from the Italian mafia comes to your door, just play this, and run out the back door while they listen – mouth agape and eyes moistened – to the music.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: I can be Googled, therefore I am.
HOTTIE OF THE DAY