After dropping Game 1 of the World Series, one scroll through Astros’ Twitter indicated the sky had fallen and the season was over.
Blame abounded, with various parties taking the brunt of the criticism. Dusty Baker and Justin Verlander were the most common recipients. Luis Garcia received some vitriol after he yielded the go-ahead bomb in the top of the 10th, while the inauspicious DH combination of Aledmys Diaz and Trey Mancini bore their fair share of the blame.
In a twist surprising to any baseball fan that doesn’t call Houston home, the Astros’ leadoff hitter remained largely immune to chirping. After a 1-5 showing, their offensive catalyst carried a .108 playoff average (4-37). Any other leadoff man would be receiving calls for a demotion in the lineup.
Let’s not forget, future World Series MVP George Springer went 0-4 in Game 1 of the 2017 World Series after batting .115 in the ALCS, prompting many questions lobbed at AJ Hinch about moving Springer down in the order.
Luckily for the Astros, Jose Altuve isn’t “any other leadoff man,” but rather, one of the best batters of his generation. After showing signs of life with some hard hit outs in Games 2-4 of the ALCS and Game 1 of the World Series, ‘Tuve came to life last night to jump-start the Astros offense. One pitch was all that was needed.
Altuve turned around a first-pitch fastball from Zack Wheeler for a double down the left field line, scoring on the next pitch on a double from Jeremy Pena.
Altuve has long been an elite fastball hitter, slugging .621 against heat this year, second in the game to only Aaron Judge. One pitch was all it took for the playoff giant to return. His timing was back, and so was the Astros’ playoff mojo.
A three-run outburst in the bottom of the first was all the scoring the Astros needed. Framber Valdez mowed through the Phillies lineup, before turning to Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly to slam the door. Aside from both a loud foul ball and a loud out from Kyle Schwarber in the 8th, the Astros’ arms kept the game relatively stress-free.
Stress-free is how the Astros typically roll when Altuve is dialed in. Their second baseman had arguably his best year since his 2017 MVP season, slashing .300/.387/.533 for a .921 OPS, good for fourth in the MLB. In wins, Altuve shone even brighter, slashing .334/.430/.605/1.034 with 23 home runs and 47 RBI.
Altuve appeared in 45 games the Astros lost, slashing a mere .226/.290/.381 in losses. Safe to say, the Astros go as Altuve goes.
Houston was able to survive the ALDS and ALCS with virtually no contributions from the future Hall of Famer, but his woes caught up to them in Game 1. Where others may have faced lineup demotions, fan slander, or some combination of the two, Altuve was mostly immune.
A .285 hitter in his playoff career with 23 postseason home runs, Altuve has more than earned the trust of his manager and fanbase. Their trust was more than rewarded.
Altuve finished his night with three hits–a rather fitting number. After evening the series at one game a piece, the Astros are now three games shy of their ultimate goal, a second World Series championship.
With their elite leadoff man back and firing on all cylinders (7 for his last 15) and having made it through the Phillies co-aces, the Astros are in prime position to take control of the series over the next three games in Philadelphia.
Maybe Altuve has more three-hit games in store. That wouldn’t be all that surprising.
Maybe the Astros win the next three games, closing out the series in front of a raucous Philadelphia crowd.
Maybe they return to Houston, Commissioner’s Trophy in hand, looking for World Series number three next year. Who knows what may be in store over what has now become a best-of-five?
One thing is for sure: with Jose Altuve back to the hitter Houston knows and loves, anything is possible.