The Houston Astros did what most defending champions do—win both games at home during the best-of-five American League Divisional Series (ALDS) last weekend.

But they also led the major leagues with the best road record in 2018 and it showed Monday as they went into the seventh inning trailing the Indians in Cleveland 2-1 and then mauled the bullpen, scoring nine runs in the next two innings and winning the ALDS 11-3 with a three-game sweep—the first in franchise playoff history.

Now the Astros must wait and see whether they will play the mighty Boston Red Sox or the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series and the right to play in the 2018 World Series later this month.

As I have always harped on, pitching is the name of the game, and in this three-game series, the Astros had it and the Indians didn’t. Houston won the first game Friday at Minute Maid Park 7-2 behind ace Justin Verlander and then came back with a 3-1 squeaker Saturday behind the brilliant mound performance by Gerrit Cole.

Houston’s No. 3 pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who used to be the ace of the staff until Verlander and Cole showed up, started Monday’s game and gave up just two runs, but exited the game trailing 2-1. Collin McHugh pitched two innings and was credited with the win.

The key to the Astros’ sweep can be traced to the fact they kept the ball in play on offense and displayed solid defense during the three games.

It looks to me that whomever the Astros play, they will be behind the eight-ball because Verlander and Cole will have normal rest between starting assignments with the ALCS not set to begin until Saturday. Houston had five days off after the end of the regular season and it certainly didn’t hurt them against the Indians.

One announcer on TBS said that when a team keeps the ball in play, good things happen. Monday’s clincher for the Astros was a perfect example of that when the Cleveland pitchers committed three errors throwing the ball to a base. This opened the flood gates for Houston.

Although the Red Sox had the best won-loss record in the major leagues this season, the Astros still are heavily favored to repeat as world champions, according to this week’s issue of USA Today Sports Weekly.

Ted Berg likes Houston over Atlanta in five games. “Houston’s success was overshadowed somewhat by the Red Sox’ winning record. But the Astros went 21-6 in September and that’s when winning counts the most.”

Sports staffer Gabe Lacques picks the Astros to beat the Dodgers in six games. “No teams in their leagues come close to being so well-built for the post-season as the Astros and the Dodgers. The back end of the Astros’ rotation will lift them past the Red Sox. And the overwhelming depth of the Dodgers again won’t quite be good enough.” Two other writers were way out in left field as one picked the Indians over the Brewers and another had the Astros over the Cubs.

As far as I’m concerned, I merely want the Astros to keep pitching and playing defense like they did against Cleveland and good things will happen.

KWICKIES…The Texas Longhorns gave their ardent fans a double surprise last weekend. Not only did they upset favored Oklahoma 48-45 in the Red River Classic, but they also made the biggest jump in this week’s Associated Press’ College Football Top 25 Poll, leaping 10 positions from No. 19 to No. 9. The top four spots remained intact with Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson, but No. 5 LSU tumbled from fifth place to No. 13. West Virginia moved from ninth to No. 6, Washington also jumped three slots to No. 7, as did Penn State from No. 11 to No. 8 and Central Florida moved up two places to No. 10. The Oklahoma Sooners nose-dived from No. 7 to No. 11. Four newcomers at the bottom of the poll include Texas A&M, South Florida, Mississippi State and Cincinnati.

A total of six games were won in the last second of the fourth period Sunday in the National Football League with Graham Gano booting a personal best 63-yarder as time expired giving the Carolina Panthers a 33-31 victory over the undisciplined New York Giants. The Giants’ secondary got called for pass interference, a defensive back bumped the referee and then said something that cost another personal foul, moving the ball more than 50 yards downfield on one play, setting up an easy field goal that made a difference on the final score.

It took three extra holes but Kevin Tway won his first PGA Tour victory Sunday in the Safeway Open played in Napa, Calif. Tway, a former Oklahoma State player and son of Bob Tway of the Senior Tour, rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt to defeat Ryan Moore. Brandt Snedeker, who led for most of the four-day event, spiraled to 74 in the final round and made the playoff, but was eliminated on the first extra hole.

Drew Brees became the NFL’s all-time passing leader as the New Orleans Saints drubbed the Washington Redskins 43-19 on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Brees surpassed Peyton Manning’s record of 71,940 yards and needs only one more touchdown pass to reach the 500-milestone.

Texas pro football fans were treated to a great game between the Houston Texans and the Dallas Cowboys on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. There was some crisp tackling, great defense and exciting offense.  The game ended in a 16-16 tie after regulation, but thanks to a 49-yard catch and run by DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans were set up for the game-winning 36-yard field goal by Ja’imi Fairbairn as the overtime period ended.

JUST BETWEEN US…It’s hard to argue that Texas is the nation’s hot-bed for football. And that doesn’t pertain to only today. There were 11 players from Texas selected as the No.1 overall pick in the NFL draft, 30 players from Texas inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio and 309 selected to the Pro Bowl. Texas leads in all three categories and 8.5 per cent of all active NFL players hail from the Lone Star State–the third highest behind Florida and California.