His manager, Dusty Baker, has said many times that he wants the jeers, boos and curse-riddled chants that come all over Altuve’s path, but here to stop, for people to watch. – learn from him, even. His teammates praise him, mock his ability to control the bat, question his ability to control his emotions.
But at this point in the playoffs, Altuve wasn’t exactly providing an offensive education. The Astros went one game down to the Philadelphia Phillies in this World Series without Altuve batting. They filled this gap with a 5-2 win on Saturday in Game 2 largely because of this.
Altuve doubled on the first pitch Zack Wheeler pitched the Astros on Saturday night, the first of three straight hits that would give the Astros a sudden lead and signaled everyone at Minute Maid Park that any momentum built up by the Phillies their spectacular win in the opener doesn’t need to last long.
“I feel like one innings to start the game got the crowd going, got our dugout in, started our offense,” said Alex Bregman, who hit a two-run homer in the fifth, later. Jeremy Peña doubled on the first pitch afterwards. Yordan Alvarez doubled on the second pitch he saw. Four pitches in the game, the Astros led 2-0. At the end of the first set, it was 3-0.
That flurry of swings that followed Altuve’s was so frantic that it wasn’t until fourth-at-bat Bregman took the second pitch he saw for a ball that an Astro didn’t swing on. one of Wheeler’s offerings. It was also calculated: The Astros forward scouting team had a suggestion against Phillies starter Wheeler: Attack pitches in the zone, especially fastballs, early.
“It’s the first time a lot of our guys have seen it,” Baker said. “But we watch a lot of videos and our hitters, the coaching staff try to familiarize them as much as possible with who they’re up against that day.”
This round was positive for the Astros for all the obvious reasons, but also because Altuve showed his teammates and Wheeler that the plan was right. But at this point, any move by Altuve was labeled as a step in the right direction. Among the many standout aspects of the Astros’ playoff series, especially their sweep of the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Seriesis his relative offensive absenteeism in October.
He started this postseason without a hit in his first 25 at-bats, the second-longest streak in playoff history. And since Alvarez homered to help Houston against the Seattle Mariners in the first two games of their Division Series game, he was 3 for 25 in the other six games entering Game 2 on Saturday night. Alvarez finished second in the OPS majors this season. Altuve finished fourth. The Astros had won seven straight playoff games and went to the World Series without two of their roster’s cornerstones — two of baseball’s top five hitters by that measure — hitting much at all. They needed Altuve to win the eighth.
“There are a lot of guys in our clubhouse who lead us and there are a lot of guys in our clubhouse who are vocal and things of that nature,” said Game 3 starter Lance McCullers. But Altuve is the heart of this team. It has been since I became an astro. When he leaves, our team feels very confident.
Altuve said when he struggled in early October, he watched a lot of videos. He hit more than usual. Then he stopped.
“I think lately,” he said. “The less I worry about it, the better.”
On his second at-bat, Altuve saw another first-pitch fastball and didn’t hesitate. He blew it. But when Wheeler, clearly aware of the Astros’ plan, started Altuve with a slider in the fifth, he dismissed it, then redirected a curveball down the middle for a hit. Altuve entered Saturday with four hits in eight postseason games. He went 3 for 4. That hit put a runner ahead of Bregman, who delivered his homer clear to deep left center shortly after.
Bregman is one of the main reasons this team has been able to sustain such success without two key hitters producing nearly the levels expected. He produced identical lines in the ALDS and ALCS: 5 for 15 with a double and a homer. Last year, it was Bregman who disappeared in the playoffs, partly due to a wrist injury, partly due to persistent mechanical malfunctions that he struggled to repair as a result. But thanks to his big swing on Saturday, the Astros had a five-point lead — just like they did before the The Phillies broke into Game 1.
And southpaw Framber Valdez was dominant again, pitching 6⅓ innings and allowing a run when the only man he left on base scored after he left. By the time Valdez left the game, unnamed Astros pitcher Justin Verlander had allowed 11 earned runs in nine games, another reason Altuve and Alvarez may have struggled while the Astros were thriving.
But to win a World Series, Houston would likely need both, especially the man at the top of the order who’s been an Astro for so long even his phone case has orange accents on it. The World Series stops to travel on Sunday, so maybe Altuve will sit too long to turn a good game into two.
Or maybe he’s reappeared, just in time to hear a raucous Philadelphia crowd greet him with the usual disdain – the constant reminder of the very thing that no one outside of Houston seems willing to bestow on him, the very thing which everyone here says it just doesn’t. you don’t need.
“I don’t think about redemption for him at all,” veteran Michael Brantley, who is out of the playoffs with an injury, said Saturday. “I think what a special teammate he is to me day in and day out. Since I’ve been here for four years, he’s been nothing but phenomenal for me and my family, for all the guys that walk through this dressing room.
Either way, when anyone envisions these Astros years from now – whether Altuve 2017 MVP Award is forever discredited as a result of the Astros sign-stealing scandal or his career in all of the validation of offers, whether they follow this 2017 World Series tainted title with a less controversial this year, if he breaks out and helps them get it – that someone will have to think about Jose Altuve. And it looks like the Phillies will now have to think a little more about him too.