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SI:AM | New-Look Astros, Same Results

Plus, the strangers who found out that their shared father is a WWE Hall of Famer.

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I’m already nervous about a potential Yankees-Astros ALCS.

In today’s SI:AM:

The Astros aren’t going anywhere

🤼 Finding Rocky Johnson’s family

😢 A debut nine years in the making

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The Astros aren’t going anywhere

Take a look at the top of the AL West standings and you’ll see something familiar.

The Astros, at 47–27, lead the division by 11 games and have the second best record in the majors. They’re cruising toward what would be their fifth straight division title in a full-length season, but these aren’t the same old Astros that the rest of the country has grown to hate over the past few years.

George Springer? Gone. Carlos Correa? Gone. Starting pitchers Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke and Dallas Kuechel? All gone. And yet Houston has been able to reload and replace those key pieces, pairing familiar faces like José Altuve and Alex Bregman with newer guys like outfielder Kyle Tucker and pitcher Cristian Javier.

The most important player might be the oldest face of all: 39-year-old Justin Verlander. He made just one start in 2020, underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire ’21 season. Now he’s back and as good as ever. He has a 2.03 ERA in 15 starts, second best in the American League, and a miniscule 0.83 WHIP, tied with Tampa Bay’s Shane McClanahan for the best in the majors. In yesterday’s 2–0 win over the Mets, he gave up two hits and one walk over eight innings while striking out six.

It wasn’t all good news for the Astros yesterday, though. The other player driving Houston’s success this season is Yordan Álvarez, who leads the majors with a 1.070 OPS. He was involved in an outfield collision with shortstop Jeremy Peña and carted off the field. Peña also left the game. The Astros have not provided an update on their conditions.

Yesterday’s win made the Astros 10–3 over the past two weeks. They’re all but assured of winning another division title (Fangraphs puts those odds at 99.4%), so it’s easy to start looking ahead to a postseason matchup with the Yankees, which, given how heated last weekend’s series in the Bronx was, would be another thrilling installment of a budding rivalry.

The best of Sports Illustrated


In today’s Daily Cover, Greg Oliver writes about the five strangers who discovered, through DNA testing, that their father was Rocky Johnson, the father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Rohan Nadkarni has the best landing spots for six of the most notable NBA free agents available. … Rohan also graded the trade that sent Dejounte Murray from the Spurs to the Hawks. … Will Laws argues that Dodgers fans were being unfair to Freddie Freeman in their reaction to his emotional return to Atlanta. … Freddie Freeman’s agent told Tom Verducci that he did not withhold the Braves’ final contract offer.

Around the sports world

The Wizards and Nuggets pulled off a trade involving some role players, but the interesting part is that Ish Smith is headed to Denver to play for his NBA record 13th franchise. … MLB commissioner Rob Manfred did a rare extensive interview with ESPN’s Don Van Natta. … The Pirates scored a run against the Nationals thanks to a rare application of the “fourth out” rule. … Alex Ovechkin was touted as an investor in Washington’s NWSL team but never actually wrote the check, according to Sportico.

The top five...

… things I saw yesterday:

5. Mariners rookie Julio Rodriguez’s upper-deck home run

4. Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards playing football

3. Josh Naylor’s walk-off home run for the Guardians and the celebration where he headbutted Terry Francona

2. Shohei Ohtani’s 11-strikeout game

1. 30-year-old Mark Appel finally making his MLB debut nine years after being selected first in the draft


On this day in 1992, an NHL arbitrator issued his ruling after the Quebec Nordiques struck nearly simultaneous trades to send Eric Lindros to which two teams?

Yesterday’s SIQ: Where in Minnesota is there a monument to the 522-foot home run Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew hit with the Twins?

Answer: On the wall of an indoor theme park at the Mall of America.

The mall sits on a site formerly occupied by the old Metropolitan Stadium, which was demolished in 1985. Smack-dab in the middle of the mall, where the baseball diamond was laid out, is the Nickelodeon Universe theme park. To commemorate Killebrew’s mammoth blast on June 3, 1967, there is a stadium seat, painted red, affixed to the wall above the log flume.

When Killebrew took Angels reliever Lew Burdette deep in the fourth inning that afternoon, he was believed to be the first hitter to reach the second deck at the Met. The team immortalized the homer with a plaque in the spot where it landed and painted the chair that it hit red to stand out among the rest of the section’s green seats. The plaque was stolen several times, according to, as was the seat, so the one on the wall at the Mall of America is just another old Metropolitan Stadium chair.

From the Vault: June 30, 1986

Sports Illustrated cover featuring Len Bias after his death

Len Bias’s death less than two days after being selected by the Celtics in the first round of the NBA draft is one of the most well-known tragedies in sports, but until now I had never heard of what happened to his brother.

Jack McCallum’s cover story not only details the 40 hours between when Bias was picked second by Boston and when he died of cardiorespiratory arrest after consuming cocaine, but also Bias’s relentless work ethic, how he shied away from the spotlight and how he “had been a symbol to many people.” It also includes this anecdote about Len’s younger brother Jay excelling in a summer league game days after Len’s death:

“On Thursday evening, at a gymnasium about seven miles from the Maryland campus, Len’s brother, Jay, laced up a new pair of black-and-white sneakers, preparing to play in a summer-league game. ‘Len would’ve wanted me to,’ said Jay, who would turn 16 the next day. A lanky 6'5" junior-to-be at Northwestern High, Jay played passionately and well, scoring 20 points (including two spectacular dunks) and getting whistled twice for goaltending, the supreme act of machismo for a young player. On that night Jay bore an eerie resemblance to his big brother, both facially and in the way he ran the court—proudly, confidently, with his arms pumping high. ‘Jay’s a little further along at this stage than Len was,’ said [Len and Jay’s high school coach, Bob] Wagner.”

Curious what became of Jay Bias, I looked him up and discovered that he also died young. Jay was shot to death at age 20 on Dec. 4, 1990, following an argument with a man at a jewelry store. The man, Jerry Tyler, also 20, accused Bias of flirting with his wife and later shot him twice in the back outside the mall where the argument had taken place. (Tyler and a second man, Gerald Eiland, who was behind the wheel of the car during the drive-by shooting, were convicted of murder.)

Jay’s death, unlike Len’s, did not become a national issue. Because Len died as a result of consuming drugs, at a time when the United States was wrapped up in collective drug hysteria, his death was leveraged by politicians as a cautionary tale, as Michael Weinreb wrote about in a lengthy ESPN story in 2008 and Tommy Craggs wrote more incisively for Deadspin in 2013.

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