Culture / Sporting Life

Jose Altuve Calls His Own Playoff Shot — Look Out, Babe?

Astros' Heart and Soul is Crazy Good at Predicting His Home Runs

BY // 10.04.19

Carlos Correa knows better than to doubt a Jose Altuve proclamation. It turns out that Altuve is not just one of the best baseball players on the planet. He’s also a soothsayer who could rival the former Miss Cleo in prolific declarations.

Only, Altuve’s predictions actually come true.

“He’s told me over 20 times since I got here, ‘I’m going to hit a home run,’ ” Correa says. “And he does it. Every time he tells me it’s because he’s feeling good in the cage.

“And you go into the game and he just takes people deep.”

Altuve is it again before the Dream Team Houston Astros’ playoff opener against the Tampa Bay Rays. “He told me before the game, ‘I’ve hit a home run in the first game of the last two postseasons. So I’m going to make it three straight,’  ” Correa details.

Of course, Altuve does just that, whipping a 97 MPH fastball from Tyler Glasnow into the Crawford Boxes with one quick wrist turn. Altuve gets the party started for the World Series favorites, cutting right through the tension of a 0-0 playoff game that’s reached the bottom of the fifth inning.

Altuve’s swing lets everyone in the sellout crowd of 43,360 — and everyone in the Astros’ dugout — exhale. Minute Maid Park is suddenly beyond rocking and the Astros are rolling to a 6-2 Game 1 win with the stadium morphing into one big orange towel waving roar.

To the Rays, it might as well have felt like a sonic boom.

“If I went back, I would probably throw a curveball,” Glasnow says later. The Rays’ 6-foot-8 flamethrower is slightly scrunched over a podium interview table as he talks hindsight regrets.

Truth is, the Astros’ heart and soul probably would have tattooed that curve, too. After all, Altuve called this joy.

The 29-year-old Altuve and the 25-year-old Correa have a special bond, sort of a big brother/little brother dynamic. Altuve telling Correa what he is going to do is just part of that. When Altuve tells Correa he’s going deep, it clearly pumps up the excitable shortstop too.

Few people — and almost no one outside of the Astros’ dugout — see this side of the former MVP. Jose Altuve carries the confidence of a world class big game finisher. You’ll never him sticking out his tongue like Michael Jordan. Or flexing like Usain Bolt.

But that supreme confidence is there. It’s just a little more hidden.

“I was looking for no one specific pitch,” Altuve says of his home run swing. “I was just looking up and got lucky.”

OK, it’s a lot more hidden. As hidden as the humanity in an episode of Succession.

But how many called shots did Babe Ruth have? One. . . maybe. If you listen to Correa, Jose Altuve has 20 plus.

Not that anyone who’s played with Altuve for any length of time is surprised. “That’s what he’s been doing his whole career,” new dad Josh Reddick says in the Astros clubhouse. “He did it when the team wasn’t any good and he’s doing it now.”

As much as the Astros change, as much as the young stars around him grow (into MVP candidates in some cases), Altuve still drives this franchise in so many important ways.

“Really, truly, Jose’s the leader of this club,” Astros ace Justin Verlander says.

Astros Jose Altuve Carlos Correa
Carlos Correa knows that Jose Altuve deserves plenty of love for his playoff heroics. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

During Houston’s 2017 World Series run, Altuve kickstarted everything by hitting three home runs (two of them off Red Sox ace Chris Sale) in the playoff opener. He’d have another moment on Friday.

A healthy Altuve is one of the most exciting forces to watch in all of sports. No one saw that force last October when he played through a knee injury that would later require surgery. But everyone is seeing the real Jose now.

Jose-ed

Rays manager Kevin Cash departs Minute Maid having added a new verb to the baseball lexicon. “We got Verlandered,” Cash moans, delighting meme creators to no end. And well it’s true that Verlander is dominant, giving up one measly single and three walks in seven innings, the Rays also got Jose-ed.

This is the Astros’ version of a playoff welcome. Only the Rays definitely aren’t expected to stay for a while.

“We’ve got (Gerrit) Cole tomorrow, another animal,” Correa says of the Astros Saturday night Game 2 scenario.

The Astros have the advantage in another one of these cutthroat best-of-five Division Series situations. But when you’re a 107 win juggernaut that some baseball voices are already calling the best team since the 1998 Yankees (they of the legendary 125 wins, playoffs included), you always seem to have the advantage.

Jose Altuve is a huge part of providing that edge. Verlander and Cole and their amazing inner-clubhouse Cy Young duel are justifiably on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated. But Altuve is still just as important, just as vital to the prospect of another Astros parade.

Altuve is a star to believe in, still and forever, in this Astros universe. Just ask Correa, the man who hears No. 27’s uncommonly bold predictions.

“Whatever he tells me, I believe,” Correa says, breaking into a grin. “Doesn’t surprise me.”

The true greats never do. Their magic is expected.

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