Jose Altuve's powerful swing is a difference maker. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Gerrit Cole went on a dominant roll for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros ace Gerrit Cole has the big game stare down. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Always one of the most enthusiastic Astros, Josh Reddick added his bat to the equation vs. the Yankees. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve knows how to motivate his Houston Astros teammates. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve is at the heart of everything the Astros do. And Josh Reddick knows it. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Gerrit Cole is a dominant force and free agent to be. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve is still the straw that stirs the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Gerrit Cole has turned into the playoff ace that Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow envisioned. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Jose Altuve's health is back — and so is his power. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
NEW YORK — Josh Reddick hears the screams, feels the hate, but it’s all right this time. It almost has a different ring to it. Sure, Yankee Stadium’s mad mob is still screaming at him in right field. But this time, they’re yelling their vitriol because he did something big for the Houston Astros.
This time, Reddick hit them where it hurt with a home run in the top of the second. And well… let them roar.
“I’m sure,” Reddick says when asked if the reaction to him when he returned to the outfield intensified post dinger. “It’s a matter of all kinds of different things here. You suck is kinda of the standard. They’re all yelling at the same time so it all kind of just mumbles together.”
Reddick shrugs. Words (not to mention the water bottles, souvenir baseballs and other assorted debris that came down in the eighth inning, requiring a public announcer rebuke to the restless crowd of 48,998) may be able to hurt. But they don’t hurt as much as two early home runs from the team that has Gerrit Cole on its side.
The Astros didn’t exactly sap the mean out of Yankees Stadium, but they sure took a lot of the joy out of the people doing the screaming. That’s what a 4-1 win that puts every bit of this Houston team’s championship mettle on display can do. With a few well-timed swings, some savvy base running and seven more innings of Cole in command, Jose Altuve and Co. retake control of this ultimate heavyweight American League Championship Series.
“What a big statement for us,” Reddick says.
What a dramatic turnaround. Late on Sunday night, the New York Yankees seemed to be on the brink of taking a commanding 2-0 series lead back to their den of horrors. But it didn’t happen — and now the Astros are up 2-1 with a possible rainout looming Wednesday night and questions swirling about the Yankees pitching staff.
This is how you need to arrive in New York. With attitude. With a little swagger. With plenty of fearlessness.
Altuve displays all three before the game is even three minutes old.
“I thought Altuve’s swing was so big for us,” Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel says.
When Altuve sends Luis Severino’s third pitch of the game soaring over the centerfield wall, right into the Astros’ suddenly jumping up and down bullpen, an early stunned hush falls over the Bronx Zoo. So much for the team from Houston being intimidated at all by all the pageantry, pomp and vitriol that comes with Yankee Stadium.
Altuve now has more home runs in the 2019 playoffs than anyone with four. The TV announcers still love to point out that the 5-foot-6 Altuve is the shortest player in the playoffs. He also may be the best player in the postseason. He’s hitting .455 in this ALCS.
If the ball really is different this October, it’s certainly not containing Jose Altuve.
“He’s such a great player and a spark plug for all of us,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch says of Altuve.
When Reddick, the Astros’ No. 8 hitter, adds a booming home run to right in the second inning, the Astros look very comfortable in the fright land where they went 0-3 in that epic 2017 American League Championship Series.
The Yankees had the Astros on the ropes in Game 2. They stood on the verge of taking a nearly insurmountable 2-0 lead back to the Bronx. But the former champions are not easy to extinguish. They battled back, won it in the bottom of the 11th inning on Carlos Correa’s epic walkoff — and now they sure seem to have their mojo back.
This is how a series turns.
“This is one of the hardest places to play in America” Astros outfielder George Springer says.
Astros 1, Bronx Zoo 0.
The stadium operations crew does it best to drum up the energy and bring back the dread. A clip of Michael Rapaport extolling the crowd is played on the big screen before the bottom of the fifth. (With James Dolan having driven all those celebrities away from Madison Square Garden couldn’t the Yankees get anyone bigger than Michael Rapaport?)
And there are moments of great stirring. DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge lead off the bottom of the first with back-to-back singles. Cole gets out of it. The Yankees put two more base runners on in the second inning. Cole gets out of it. The stadium really starts buzzing when Edwin Encarnacion doubles to left and Gleyber Torres, who Cole largely seems to work around, is walked in the fifth inning. Cole gets out it.
This is not a day of Gerrit Cole at his super strikeout complying best. But it may be his most craftiest.
Cole gives up four hits and five walks, but he never loses his grip on the game. Instead, he gets stronger the later it goes. The pitcher everyone in baseball covets retires the last seven batters he faces in an 112-pitch night.
That’s a different type of wow — but a wow nonetheless.
“Just because he doesn’t strike out 15, doesn’t mean he didn’t have a good game,” Astros catcher Martin Maldonado says. “That was an unbelievable game.”
Welcome to the new world of Gerrit Cole — a world where you put up seven scoreless innings at one of the most intimidating venues in all of sports and get legitimate questions about not having your best stuff.
The Astros suddenly look like their championship selves. Altuve is playing like a playoff MVP. The rest of the lineup is coming along. Guys like Reddick are contributing. And with the storms looming, Justin Verlander could be pitching again as early as Game 5 on regular rest Friday.
Can you say, advantage Astros?
Some of this reality seemed to be settling in during that rainstorm of debris (not that that excuses it). “It’s definitely disrespectful, and at the same time, very unsafe,” Reddick says of the flying objects coming out of stands.
Yankees fans are throwing water bottles. But the Astros players are hitting haymakers.
New York, New York. Sometimes it doesn’t like the news — or the reality — that’s spreading.
Reddick can feel it (and hear it) in the fifth, when Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius hits a towering shot to right with two on that the Astros right fielder catches as he backs into the wall. The gasps and groans could shake the stadium at this point.
But soon the soundtrack resumes — and Reddick is being yelled at all over again.
“I couldn’t really understand it because it’s so loud and everybody starts screaming at the same time,” he says.
No matter. Even the ugly sounds of a road victory in Yankee Stadium can be sweet to winning ears.