Culture / Sporting Life

Jose Siri and the Art of Driving a Pitcher Insane — How a Speedy Rebel Gives the Ultra Professional Astros a Dash of Madcap Magic

Trying to Change a Game Whenever He Gets the Chance

BY // 05.26.22

Cal Quantrill keeps throwing over to first base. Again and again and again. The Cleveland Guardians’ starting pitcher seems more obsessed with Jose Siri than a Star Wars fanatic is with Luke Skywalker canon. There are stalkers who spend less time thinking about someone.

That is what Siri, the Houston Astros’ can of Red Bull come to life, can do. Siri does not play close to every day for one of the most talented teams in baseball. But when he does get a start, he has a way of making the most if it. Often energizing the whole team in the process.

Siri does it again in a 2-1 win over the Cleveland Guardians on Wednesday night, which extends the Astros’ most recent run to 18-5 and moves them two games ahead of the Anaheim Angels in the American League West. While Houston starter Cristian Javier is ace-like with nine strikeouts for the second straight start, Siri gets to Quantrill, a 27-year-old Canadian pitcher who relies on his command to frustrate batters.

Instead, Siri drives him as bonkers as an energetic toddler frustrating a work-at-home mom. It starts in the third inning when Siri singles to leadoff the inning — and Quantrill suddenly becomes more interested in throwing to first than home plate. It comes across as a nearly desperate attempt to keep Siri at first.

And Siri still steals second. And gets to third when a still totally-fixated Quantrill throws the ball into centerfield while trying to pick him off second.

“I think I do take them out of focus a little bit,” Siri says through the Astros interpreter when I ask if he feels like he distracts pitchers when he’s on the bases. “Obviously I’m a runner that if they got a base hit, I can get to third. Or on a ball in the gap, I can probably score. And I can also steal a base if I need to.

“But even with the throws over I can sometimes still go and effect the game like that.”

Siri changes this game. He doesn’t end up scoring after driving Quantrill batty in the third. But the next time he comes up, he rockets a leadoff double into deep center and scores the first run of the game on a Michael Brantley sacrifice fly.

Welcome to the Jose Siri experience.

“He’s an electric player,” Sugar Land Space Cowboys manager Mickey Storey tells PaperCity when the subject turns to Siri, who finally became a Major Leaguer after playing for Storey in Sugar Land. “He’s an electric personality. “He was a joy to have here while we had him.”

Storey thinks Siri may have gained more confidence while doing his thing in the Dominican Winter League during the MLB lockout this winter.

“He’s over there doing the same exact stuff,” Storey says. “Stealing home. Tagging up on fly balls hit in the infield. Hitting home runs. Getting the crowd engaged. He’s a very exciting person.”

Siri’s theatrics are not just limited to the field either. After this game, he zips on a full gray tracksuit and just about the brightest pink bandana and socks, pulled up high, you’ve ever seen. A comfortable airplane flight outfit (the Astros are flying to Seattle right after this game) has never looked so fly.

Siri’s only taken 86 at-bats this season, which ranks 11th on the Astros. But he’s hellbent on making the most of them.

“I have a lot of fun,” Siri says, which may be the great understatement of this Astros season. “I feel like I can change the game in a second. Whether it’s with my legs or with the bat.”

Jose Siri — and the Love of Speed

Astros manager Dusty Baker just loves being able to use Siri’s speed. The type of speed that has him able to get to first base in 4.31 seconds. The type of speed that drives pitchers to distraction.

“I’ve always like speed,” Baker says when I ask him about Siri. “Speed kills. Speed makes you rush. It makes you do things. It makes a pitcher hang stuff to the next hitter. It’s something to worry about.

“When a pitcher’s not worried about that you’re going to run, the pitcher can just take all the time he wants and execute the way he wants to execute. I’ll take a whole team full of speed — and some guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark.”

Jose Siri will tell you — with a big grin — that he can do both.

“He’s an electric player. He’s an electric personality. “He was a joy to have here while we had him.” — Sugar Land manager Mickey Storey on Jose Siri

While Siri is still working for his time, sharing something of a platoon with Chas McCormick for one outfield spot, Cristian Javier is solidifying himself as an electric arm that must stay in this Astros starting rotation.

While Javier’s ever-moving rising fastball is as good as ever, his slider is what renders the Guardians as helpless as as kitten stuck in a tree. The team that’s the best in the Majors at not striking out is left swinging at air. Again and again. And again.

This type of slider can push Javier to another pitching plane.

“Especially when guys are struggling to get above the fastball,” Astros catcher Jason Castro says. “So having to make that adjustment. And then getting a kind of wipeout side-to-side slider and trying to cover both, or being in-between those two, that’s why you’re able to strike out as many as he was.”

Houston Astros beat the Cleveland Indians at Minute Maid Park
Cristian Javier continues to make his case as an Astros starter. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Javier strikes out six of the first seven batters he faces and takes a no hitter two outs into the fifth inning. For the second straight start, he shows dominant stuff.

The ceiling for Cristian Javier may have just raised again.

He has 18 strikeouts in his last 11 and 2/3 innings with one run allowed in that span. There should no thought of replacing him in the starting rotation with anyone else now.

“That’s something I’m not really thinking too much about,” Javier says when I ask if he feels he’s gone to another level in these last two starts. “I’m trying to stay normal and just continue working and make adjustments.

“That’s not something that’s really on my mind at the moment.”

For his part, Jose Siri does not seem to ever entertain any doubt in his mind. Two months into what he hopes will be first full Major League season at age 26, Siri just wants to keep going fast. Keep driving pitchers bonkers.

And having a blast. On this night, he strides out of the Astros clubhouse with an even bigger grin than usual.

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