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By Joe Kazmar
For the Record 

Kaz's Korner

Astros off to flying start


Last updated 4/6/2021 at 7:38pm

The Houston Astros must be mad!! They are upset over the fact the Oakland A's won the American League West Division title last season. They are angry over the catcalls the A's fans were hurling at them for allegedly cheating to win the 2017 World Series during the opening four-game series of the 2021 major league baseball season.

So, Houston retaliated by completely overwhelming Oakland by scores of 8-1, 9-5, 9-1 and 9-2 in the four-game series that began last Thursday night before a national ESPN audience. The six-game West Coast road trip continued to Los Angeles where the Astros played Monday and last night before getting a well-deserved day off today.

Houston got off to their first 4-0 start since 2001 and outscored Oakland 35-9 and out-hit them 47-21 in its four-game whitewashing of the A's. The Astros don't normally get off to a fast start in early April, but this was almost a perfect series for the team as the pitching-especially the relievers-complemented the torrid hitting.

The two teams played 36 innings and Oakland never held a lead during any of them. And in only six offensive innings did the Astros fail to have a batter reach first base.

According to Monday's edition of the Houston Chronicle, the Astros are only the fourth team since 1901 to score at least eight runs in each of a season's first four games.

Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel enjoyed his second three-hit game Sunday while Oakland could muster only four hits in the nine innings. He fashioned a .467 batting average during the four games.

Manager Dusty Baker's problem of who would take the place of departed George Springer in the lead-off position of the batting order seemed to already be answered as Jose Altuve hit .375.

Third baseman Alex Bregman, who had some aggravating injuries during spring training and got very few at-bats during those six weeks, came out of the chute swinging, blasting two homers and a .500 batting average.

Outfielder Michael Brantley, who was hit by a 90-mph fast ball early in Game 2 and missed the remainder of the series, is batting .667 with a homer. Designated hitter Yordan Alvarez, who sat out Sunday's game, is hitting .294 with a homer and six-runs-batted in.

Rookie outfielder Chas McCormick, who's subbed for the injured Brantley, belted a three-run homer Sunday and has almost as many RBIs as at bats. "We're a great team," McCormick bubbled after the game. We're all just clicking for these four games. It's cool to watch, cool to be a part of, and I hope we keep this going."

All four starting pitchers-Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers, Jr., Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier- all failed to get into the sixth inning but the bullpen, led long reliever Brandon Bielak, who spelled Urquidy in the fifth inning, finished the game with 4 2/3 hitless frames and was credited with the mound win.

"You can't do much better than the start we had," Baker commented after Sunday's game. "You take a quick, fast start any time. You realize it's a long season and every series is not going to be like this, but you enjoy it while it's here. You try to build off it and go from there."

This week's edition of USA Today Sports Weekly made this evaluation of the Astros chances this season- "The Astros are bent on making at least one more championship run with their core of All-Stars despite losing OF George Springer to free agency and RHP Justin Verlander to Tommy John elbow surgery. SS Carlos Correa, RHP's Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. are in the last year of their contracts."

The sports magazine has the Houston Astros at 20-1 odds against winning the World Series. After this weekend's four-game series, I think it would be a very safe bet!!!

KWICKIES...The four-year drought for Texas native Jordan Spieth ended Sunday when he retained his two-stroke lead throughout the final round of the PGA Tour Valero Texas Open and won after 82 consecutive tries. He finished the final round with a 6-under 66 to hold off a surging Charley Hoffman who also fashioned a 66 Sunday. Spieth goes into tomorrow's start of the Masters Tournament full of confidence. And the $1,386,000 winner's check didn't hurt his confidence either.

I almost put the "kiss of death" on Orange's Chad Dallas' college mound winning streak with last week's column as the University of Tennessee lost 7-4 to Alabama in his start Friday. However, the hard-throwing right-hander needed 73 pitches to get 11 outs and left the game in the fourth inning with the Vols leading 4-3. So, his undefeated record is still intact as Tennessee gets ready for its weekend series with No. 1 Vanderbilt. Dallas is expected to start Friday's opener for the Vols.

Fellow countryman Hubert Kurkacz of Poland won the Miami Open Tennis Tournament Sunday by defeating 19-year-old Jannik Sinner of Italy in Sunday's final. It was the biggest title of the 24-year-old's career,

No. 1 Stanford edged past No. 3 Arizona 54-53 to win the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship Sunday giving Cardinal Head Coach Tara VanDerVeer her third national title after a 29-year drought. VanDerVeer is the winningest active coach.

Unlike the Houston Astros, the Boston Red Sox fell to their first 0-3 start at Fenway Park and their second ever as they were ambushed by the Baltimore Orioles 11-3 Sunday.

JUST BETWEEN US...Charles Barkley, who often-times pops off with some off-the-wall comments, hit it right on the head Saturday night after the 93-90 overtime victory by Gonzaga over UCLA on a nearly half-court bank shot at the buzzer by Zags' Jalen Suggs, when he said that was the best NCAA Tournament basketball game he has seen in the 10 years he has been analyzing the yearly event for the national championship. Nobody, especially me, disagreed with him on that observation.


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