Even George Springer knows that it all comes down to Jose Altuve with these Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
George Springer is still having fun in the Astros dugout. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
George Springer and the Astros are starting to get that winning feeling again. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke gives the Houston Astros a legit third ace. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
George Springer is a game changer who recognizes Jose Altuve's unique gift. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve is still hitting big postseason home runs. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Zack Greinke is somehow still often dominant with a diminished velocity. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve have had some puzzling nights at the ballpark this season. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve has long been a difference maker for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Houston Astros Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve are the heart of a historic run. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke does not love the attention or hoopla that comes with it, but he knows how to pitch. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Before what could have been their last game together, the Houston Astros met as a team and promised to play hard for one another. They would fight for their last out — and now, they have at least 27 more. George Springer would not let his Astros career potentially end with a whimper. Jose Altuve would not end his season as an object of pity.
These Core Astros are much too proud, much too determined and still much too together for that.
“Just g0 out and play honestly as hard as you can,” Springer says in his postgame Zoom of the message relayed in that players-only, pre-game team meeting. “Don’t leave any doubt if a play’s on the line.”
The Astros don’t — and it’s just enough to beat the Tampa Bay Rays for the first time in this American League Championship Series. This 4-3 win in Game 4 may not really change anything in this series. Altuve and Co. are still down 3-1 in the series, still in a world of trouble, still undermanned and potentially out talented.
In fact, it may buy the Astros less than 24 hours in the end. With Astros manager Dusty Baker already rightly ruling out putting either Framber Valdez or Lance McCullers Jr.’s young arms in danger by pitching them in Game 5 on short rest, the Astros are likely looking at a bullpen game late Thursday afternoon. Houston’s season could still be over before most school kids are in bed this Thursday night. (The Astros end up winning that bullpen game 4-3 on Carlos Correa’s walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth and now the once impossible comeback from a 3-0 series deficit somehow is suddenly a possibility that’s in play. There will be a Game 6 on Friday evening after all.)
The Astros show plenty by refusing to be swept. The Core Astros deserve better than that. Their legacy demands better than that. So Jose Altuve drives in two runs after his errors turn him into a figure of morbid national curiosity and scorn. And Springer turns on a 98 MPH fastball in just his latest magic October moment.
Houston Strong. . . till the end. Earning at least 27 more outs — as one.
“I think the key for us is the good chemistry, the relationships we have with each other,” Altuve says.
Those relationships — and yes, that love — cab be seen in how the Astros visibly rally around Altuve after his inexplicable spree of throwing errors in Games 2 and 3. With the army of Astros Hates around America gleefully shouting “Karma!” from sea to sea and the armchair psychologists in the baseball press trying to diagnosis him, Altuve comes through for his team. His guys. Again.
“He’s our leader and always has been,” Springer says of the little man with the giant heart who is Houston’s forever second baseman.
Springer and The Core Astros’ Last Dance?
Altuve and Alex Bregman will still be Astros for years to come. But this could be the last dance for so many other Core Astros. Springer and Josh Reddick will head into free agency after this October run. Justin Verlander hasn’t pitched since Opening Day of this strange coronavirus season — and there’s a good chance he’ll throw his next pitch for another team when he returns from Tommy John surgery in 2022. Carlos Correa and McCullers will both become unrestricted free agents in 2022.
Springer, Altuve, Correa, Bregman and Yuli Gurriel have now played 54 postseason games together. As a group, they may only have one or two more games left together.
“It’s special,” Springer says. “I understand the guys I’m playing with. I’ve played with all these guys pretty much my whole career.”
Teams like this do not come around very often. Springer knows. All the Core Astros do. You’d better hold on — and take advantage of every moment you can with a team like this.
On an October night in San Diego, the Astros do just that. They hold off the younger, deeper, talent-packed Rays for at least one more game. Springer crushes a 98 MPH fastball from Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay’s towering, flame-throwing super arm, to break a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the fifth inning.
A fiery and emotional Martin Maldonado convinces Dusty Baker to stick with starting pitcher Zack Greinke when trouble hits in the top of the sixth. Baker’s move clearly moves Greinke — and allows baseball’s most unique pitching ace to take a swipe at how the Astros have handled him in the past.
“It’s nice having someone have confidence in me,” Greinke says. “Since I‘ve been here, they haven’t seemed to have confidence in my ability. It was nice having that happen at an important time like that.”
That is a discussion for another night, though. This Game 4 is about the Core Astros coming together one more time and refusing to let their near dynastic modern baseball run end with a humiliating four game sweep. Altuve, Springer and Friends show their championship mettle. And every bit of their championship heart.
“Well, I didn’t have a choice,” Altuve says of fighting off the specter of his errors and the national humiliation that came with it. “We didn’t want to go home. I had to show up today ready to help my team.”
All the Astros showed up. For each other. The rest of Major League Baseball wants to see the Astros go scurrying under a rock already. But this team is still Houston Strong. The Core Astros are still battling. For each other.
They got themselves at least 27 more outs. Why not go get another 27 now?