Culture / Sporting Life

His Astros Teammates Always Loved Jose Abreu Without Reservation and Now One of Baseball’s Best Clubhouse Dudes Is Powering the Defending Champs

882 Feet Of Home Runs In One Glorious Minnesota Afternoon and the Chance For Plenty More

BY // 10.11.23

MINNEAPOLIS — When you’ve hit 882 feet worth of home runs in a game your team needs to seize its Pat Riley worthy playoff destiny, you’re probably entitled to gloat a bit. That is not Jose Abreu’s way, though. And on a glorious sun and shadows afternoon in the Twin Cities in which Abreu reminds everyone of who he used to be, and who he can sometimes still be, Jose Abreu stays true to himself.

True to the guy who’s been a beloved figure in this no-bullshit Houston Astros clubhouse almost from the moment he first arrived.

Abreu largely only talks about the team and his teammates, like usual, after this 9-1 bludgeoning of the once confident Twins. Another Golden Era Astros statement win powered by Abreu’s two massive home runs, Yordan Alvarez’s morphing into Barry Bonds and Cristian Javier’s unshakeable lizard blood October calm. Abreu is the one who quickly flips everything in a Game 3 win that ensures that the Astros’ repeat title bid cannot end in Minneapolis. His first second deck home run comes just one out into the game, draining an entire stadium before any Twin can take a swing.

Librarians everywhere only wish they could quiet a large group of people as quickly, efficiently and ruthlessly as Jose Abreu does. What We Do In The Shadows‘ energy vampire Colin Robinson only dreams he could drain so many so fast.

“That’s an MVP,” Astros center fielder Mauricio Dubon tells PaperCity when I ask about Abreu after the first year Astro’s five RBI game. “That’s an MVP. He’s pretty much the glue to the clubhouse too. He’s a really good guy. And I think everybody’s happy for him too.”

That’s the thing about these unbreakable Astros. In a game that treats analytics like a religion, mining data for the slightest of edges (with none doing it better than this Astros’ organization), the world champs’ bonds are also unbending, As strong as steel. Always there to lean in on in the most pressure-packed moments.

“We go out there and compete,” veteran catcher Martin Maldonado tells PaperCity. “Everybody — with all the talent that we have here — we love, we love our team. We care about each other. And we love to just go out there and play together.”

In that sense, Jose Abreu has always been a hit with these Astros. Even as the former American League MVP struggled at the plate through large parts of the season, not even hitting his first home run until his 51st game with Houston, he made the defending world champs even stronger in the clubhouse. This may not be exactly what Jeff Bagwell meant when he talked about his confidence that Abreu would definitely come through because of the back of his baseball card.

But it’s certainly part of why the more old school Bagwell, a senior advisor for the Astros and owner Jim Crane, advocated for signing Abreu to that big money contract in the offseason. Before the Astros ever got a replacement GM. It never hurts to have more dudes in the clubhouse.

Jose Abreu is certainly one of those dudes. Now he’s mashing like one again, helping lift the Astros to that seemingly improbable American League West title with some monster swings in the Arizona desert in the final regular season weekend of the season, bowling the Twins over with that double shot of home runs in the Astros’ first real test of these playoffs.

That’s Abreu too. A dude for winning. A dude for helping others out. A dude for October.

“He kind of carried us in Arizona too,” Core Four Astro Alex Bregman says of Abreu. “He’s one of the best hitters in baseball. Has been for a long time.”

Of course, the now 36-year-old Abreu’s younger teammate Yordan Alvarez just may be The Best Hitter In Baseball. After a two double, one home run game that should have been a three double, one home run game sans a baffling decision by the Twins’ official scorer, Alvarez now carries an 2.205 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in this divisional series. He has four home runs in three games after sending another one soaring out in the ninth inning in Game 3.

That shot had Martin Maldonado and Justin Verlander turning to each other in the dugout and just shaking their heads. And laughing.

“It’s ridiculous what he does,” Dubon says of Alvarez. “He’s a guy I think, it’s not the home runs for me, it’s the mind. The process. What he does with each pitch. He always has a plan. And that’s the most impressive thing.”

That’s the thing about these unbreakable Astros. In a game that treats analytics like a religion, mining data for the slightest of edges (with none doing it better than this Astros’ organization), the world champs’ bonds are also unbending

What Javier does is just rack up strikeouts and scoreless innings in October. The most important swing player on this Astros roster makes the Twins feel like they’re seeing things. Baseballs spinning like one of those kids in The Exorcist. Twins fans try to get Javier off his game by counting down the pitch clock — correctly — in a chorus. Bless their kind Midwest hearts.

Which only makes the hidden ace nicknamed El Reptile grow stronger.

“I think that the only way you can rattle him is if you punch him, probably,” Maldonado says of Javier. “I spend time with him off the field — and that’s him. Same thing you guys see on the mound is what you see off the field.”

That would be a man with the apparent competing heart rate of a blue whale.

Then again, a playoff pitcher like Cristian Javier is almost as rare as a blue whale. Just ask Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.

Cristian Javier Astros
Cristian Javier certainly rose to another playoff moment for the Astros. (@HoustonAstros)

Jose Abreu and The Power of Playoff Dudes

These Astros always seem to have enough dudes in October. It’s why they’re still very much alive in their quest to become the first MLB team to repeat as champions since that legendary Yankees’ run from 1998 to 2000 with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez and Co. Seemingly stream rolling towards an all-Texas American League Championship Series with the Rangers, who’ve already punched their ticket to baseball’s final four.

The Astros can get there as early as Wednesday night in Target Field, a place that started emptying long before the end of this Game 3. Minnesota fans are reduced to screaming at Twins manager Rocco Baldelli for not giving Yordan the Barry Bonds’ intentional walk treatment. Or trying to create a sideshow, like the guy who proudly holds up a “I heard Taylor Swift was coming? No?” sign.

These Astros can leave any opposing crowd more lost than George Santos in a truth teller’s convention.

“He’s pretty much the glue to the clubhouse too. He’s a really good guy. And I think everybody’s happy for him too.” — Mauricio Dubon on Jose Abreu

That Abreu does a large part of the heavy lifting in making it happen in this telling playoff moment screams plenty. Abreu came to Houston for days like this, playoff moments when everything counts so much more,

“I think that this was one of the reasons why I signed with this organization, to be in the best position and compete,” Abreu says. “And trust me, I am extremely grateful with life to be able to be in this situation and position that I am right now.

“I think in life sometimes it’s also important to not let yourself fall down. It’s really important to just keep your head up.”

Jose Abreu Astros
Jose Abreu came up with the big playoff home run swing for the Astros. (@HoustonAstros)

Abreu’s head never dropped through his struggles this season. Instead, he kept picking his teammates’ heads up, always working to lift anyone he can.

This is why this championship squad never doubted Jose Abreu. He always made the clubhouse even stronger. Long before he went to the disabled list, dealt with some nagging injuries and came back hitting. Now, the proud Cuban slugger who went 50 games without homering has now hit two in the playoffs and nine overall since September 1st. That three year $58 million contract the Astros handed Abreu in free agency will look a lot nicer if Houston gets that repeat crown.

“Everybody’s happy for him,” Dubon tells PaperCity. “. . . It’s a little underrated how good of a person he is in the clubhouse. Even when things were not going good (for him), he was the same guy.”

A dude for winning. A dude for helping others out. A dude for October.

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