BOSTON – The Astros’ season was circling the drain of inevitability when the smallest man on the field marched to home plate at Fenway Park on Tuesday. Down 2-1 and six outs from three games to a deficit in the American League Championship Series, Houston needed oxygen. Fast.
“I had a good feeling,” Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron said.
The little one with the bat in his hands was José Altuve, 5 feet 6 inches tall. He would rescue them again to mark the last highlight of what is a terrific 72-game postseason run. Altuve hit the first pitch he saw from Boston reliever Garrett Whitlock, a 96 mph sinker, at the Monster Seats. It was his 21st home run in the postseason, meaning Altuve is hitting home runs in the postseason at a rate of 47 home runs in the regular season.
“And I bet 14, 15 are big: tie games or take the lead,” Cintron said. “This guy is not afraid.”
The Astros would win the game, 9-2, when Boston manager Alex Cora’s decision to use starter Nathan Eovaldi in relief erupted. Cora is always playing games with the trick of a dish spinner or chainsaw juggler, so it was inevitable that something would turn sour on her. The final score camouflaged the importance of Altuve’s home run and the fascinating adjustment to the game he made with the help of technology.
Altuve had been popping straights all night. Before Altuve got to bat in the fifth, Cintron called Altuve and pulled out an iPad. He invoked video of Altuve’s at-bat in the third inning when he popped a 94 mph cookie through the heart of Boston starter Nick Pivetta’s plate.
Cintron then asked the preloaded database to find Altuve’s home runs at Fenway Park in June. One was hit by a Darwinzon Hernandez slider. The other looked a lot like the Pivetta fastball that had appeared: a 94 mph cutter from Eovaldi.
“We showed him a video of a couple of home runs in Boston,” says Cintron. “It was the same camera angle, so you can see all the movements, how it lands.
“Those games in Boston, we showed him his good swing on the same field. [he popped up]. I compared the last swing you had with the same camera angle. That way, you can’t argue, ‘No, the camera angle is different.’
The camera never lies. It was easy to see where Altuve had gone wrong. His stride had lengthened. He threw himself at the ball in Game 4 of the American League.
“I was going too far,” says Cintron. “Instead of the ball getting to him, he was going to the ball. That is why it was growing. His pace was getting too far ahead. Rather than letting the ball come to you, hitting the ground early and falling behind, it was moving forward. I said, ‘Look at this move.’
Altuve got it. Whitlock throws a sinker so hard and heavy that only one right-hander (Marcus Semien) hit one of them for a home run this year. Altuve is a notorious first pitch fastball hitter, but Whitlock bet on his sinker above that reputation. He lost.
It was the 19th time in the past three years that Altuve hit a first pitch for a home run, including the postseason. Only four players have done it more frequently: Pete Alonso, Vlad Guerrero Jr., Ronald Acuña Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr.
The home run came two years after Altuve burned Aroldis Chapman with a pennant-winning home run.
When asked about his fit in Game 4, Altuve says: “Pivetta was throwing bands. Next time I will know. Whitlock is disgusting. His was double-stitched. Going down.”
Says third baseman Alex Bregman, “This is Mr. Clutch. He is a great player who does it over and over again ”.
Suddenly, the entire series took a turn, starting with that Altuve home run. The 1-2-3 batters in Houston’s lineup, Altuve, Michael Brantley and Bregman, woke up to extra base hits that scored runs. The overworked bullpen closed the Red Sox red-hot with 7 2/3 scoreless innings. A rested Framber Valdez, Houston’s top pitcher on the ALCS roster, takes the ball in Game 5, and Jose Urquidy follows him in Game 6 when the series returns to Houston. The Astros regained home-court advantage.
“This,” says Houston pitcher Jake Odorizzi, “was the biggest change in momentum you could wish for.”
Altuve is a generational player because of his power in his size. Among all players under 5’6 “, Altuve has the second highest slugging percentage of his career (.462), behind only Hack Wilson, who was born in 1900. Altuve becomes an even more slugger. big in the biggest games, slugging .563 in the postseason.
It should not be taken for granted, not even by those who see it every day. At the small visitor clubhouse in Fenway, Cintron pulled Altuve aside again, this time for a hug.
“I don’t know how you do it,” Cintron told him. “You are amazing.”
More MLB coverage:
• Cody Bellinger’s revival resurrects Los Angeles
• Can anyone stop the Red Sox?
• Carlos Correa’s seventh inning homer is a masterpiece
• By moving an inch, Kiké Hernández stands out among giants
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.