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Remember when everyone in Houston wanted to trade away Alex Bregman in a deal for Chris Sale? You can be sure Bregman does. The much bandied about potential offseason trade made baseball sense to most observers — after all Sale is one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball and the Houston Astros desperately needed an ace at the time.
But Bregman (understandably) and Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow (maybe less so) always saw things differently.
Six months later, on a gloomy, rainy October day at storied Fenway Park, Bregman proved himself and Luhnow right. He took the ace he would have been given up for deep in the most crucial moment of an epic playoff game. He punctured Sale’s era of invincibility like Bart Simpson gleefully popping his sister’s balloon for the second time in four games.
Bregman’s home run over the Green Monster made it 3-3 — and the Red Sox would never lead in this American League Division Series again. It ended in a 5-4 Houston win, with Speedo King Josh Reddick and playoff graybeard Carlos Beltran delivering clutch late inning hits to ensure the series finished in four, but it’s the young third baseman who so many wanted to trade away who swung this game.
Sale looked like Chris Sale again, and the Red Sox looked poised to force a winner-take-all Game 5, with Astros manager A.J. Hinch already having bizarrely used his best pitcher, Justin Verlander, in relief in Game 4. Then, Bregman changed everything. Again.
He set the tone for a Minute Maid Park rout by homering off Sale in the first inning in Game 1 — and he’d do it again on a hanging 2-1 changeup in the eighth inning in Game 4 at Fenway. When Bregman hit that bomb to tie it, Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel would later say he knew the Astros were going to win.
This is how you change a playoff series — at age 23.
“Are you kidding?” Bregman says in his postgame presser. “That’s what you dream about. That’s what you live for.
“That’s what I live for.”
Three big wins down, eight more to go for the first baseball world championship in Houston history. If the Cleveland Indians manage to turn back the somehow-still-alive New York Yankees in Game 5, the Astros will likely be underdogs in the American League Championship Series. Which suits them just fine.
“I feel like Houston is always the underdog,” Astros starter turned playoff reliever Lance McCullers tells Steve Sparks in 790 AM’s wild postgame show, encapsulating the adopted city he loves in one soundbite.
Houston always fights too, though. And these Astros surely did in this Game 4.
A Fenway Park Masterpiece
Legendary Boston baseball writer Peter Gammons would call it the second best game he’s ever seen in a lifetime spent watching baseball games. Only Carlton Fisk’s home run off the foul pole that won Game 6 of an incredible 1975 World Series beats it in Gammons’ view.
While that may seem like a stretch, there is no doubt that Bregman already has an epic playoff moment after just 204 regular season games in the big leagues. This baseball rat always has been in hurry to arrive. Now, he’s helped push the Astros into the American League Championship Series, just four wins from the franchise’s second World Series berth ever.
“He’s the type of guy that’s like a magnet,” Hinch says of Bregman. “Players are attracted to him. Whether it’s poking fun at him, which happens a lot behind those doors, or whether it’s encouraging. He will post every single day and compete.
“To watch him mature from such a high draft pick, race through the minors, get up here last year, and then into this season where he’s very much a primary player on our team, it’s a good story. It’s good to watch him kind of stand up tall amongst a group of veteran guys and maybe bigger names or more accomplished players and say, ‘Hey, I can have a big moment too.’ ”
To have one against the dominant ace he was supposed to be traded for surely means something to Bregman. This is guy who seems to remember every slight and feed off them. In some ways, Bregman is just as driven as Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, just in a completely different way.
Bregman attacks doubts — and the doubters. He memorably got into a Twitter DM beef with at least one ordinary Astros fan who advocated for him to be traded for Sale. Bregman seemed to seek out that tweet, to look for the doubt. A young J.J. Watt also used doubters to help drive him. Now, Bregman isn’t as supremely naturally gifted at baseball as Watt is at football, but both thrive off being questioned and use it as fuel.
Now, they’ve both also delivered huge moments in their first playoff series (Watt, the plucked-out-of-air, no-way Pick-6 against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012; Bregman, the home run over the Green Monster against Sale on Monday). Do you think it’s really just a coincidence that Bregman’s tormented the ace he was supposed to be traded away for?
Please. This baseball rat is always keeping score, settling debts — real or imagined.
It’s Bregman 2, Sale 0 in big moments in these playoffs. That is no small reason why the Astros are moving on and the Red Sox are staying home, grumbling as they head into another uncertain winter.
Houston fans are sure happy they still have Alex Bregman now. The Astros might not have survived if this went five. Hinch managed Game 4 like there was no tomorrow — and he may have left his team without one if they lost. But Bregman went up there, against the dominant star pitcher everyone wanted, and knocked it out of the park.
That’s dramatic. That’s gutsy. That’s fearless. That’s Alex.