Kyle Tucker gives the Astros an important weapon. One who never seems to be fazed by anything. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
When Yordan Alvarez swings, powerful things — and memorable home runs — tend to happen. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker has a championship contender in this team. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Kyle Tucker is one of the best young players in the game even if he's often overlooked. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jeremy Pena is already showing some clutch skills in his rookie year with the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Michael Brantley is a hit machine. He can play defense too. And occasionally you'll get a big smile. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros closer Ryan Pressly knows every time he pitches is going to be a high-leverage situation. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yuli Gurriel is always ready to give Alex Bregman some love. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Rafael Montero brings strikeout stuff out of the bullpen. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Kyle Tucker rarely leaves a game without some dirt on his Astros uniform. Space City jerseys or not. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros closer Ryan Pressly can be a dominant arm out of the bullpen. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jeremy Pena is showing poise beyond his years early in his Astros career. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Rafael Montero can be a force in the back end of the Houston Astros' bullpen. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yordan Alvarez can do some things that makes even other Major Leaguers like Michael Brantley go "Wow." (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dusty Baker has the Astros chasing another playoff berth. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena is not afraid of the big stage. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Even before Kyle Tucker passes first base, Michael Brantley is sprinting out of the Houston Astros dugout to greet him. Really sprinting. Yes, the 34-year-old Brantley can still move faster than you think when the moment strikes him. And Kyle Tucker doing something exciting — winning a game for the Astros in the bottom of ninth and semi rescuing Houston’s other talented young foundational player Yordan Alvarez in the process — certainly qualifies as such a moment to the man his teammates call Uncle Mike.
So Brantley runs and makes sure he’s the first teammate to start joyfully pounding on Tucker. Soon a tiny cooler of ice and icy water is dumped over Tucker’s head.
Which is fitting. Because Kyle Tucker sometimes seems to have ice in his veins, seemingly unfazed by much of anything. There are blue whales with higher heart rates. But Kyle Tucker can hit in any situation. He turns a game deciding one in the bottom of the ninth inning into a 3-2 Astros win, delivering a blow to A.J. Hinch, the Astros manger when Tucker first came up. Hinch sometimes seemed to mistake Tucker’s natural calm demeanor for nonchalance.
But Kyle Tucker cares immensely about his teammates and winning and shows it while dropping Hinch’s Detroit Tigers to a miserable 8-16 record.
“You want to be up in those situations,” Tucker says when I ask about the bottom of the ninth, winning run on second base moment.
Tucker wins this night by working Tigers All-Star closer Gregory Soto to a 3-2 count and then slapping a 96 MPH fastball right through the shift, right where Hinch and the Tigers didn’t think Tucker could hit it. Cue the celebration and Uncle Mike’s mad dash to be the first to congratulate — and ice — Tucker.
This Thursday night party at Minute Maid Park shows how close the Astros’ core outfielders are, despite their disparate backgrounds and age (at least in the case of Brantley). Tucker’s game-winning single picks up Yordan Alvarez, who misses a walkoff home run by inches to lead off the ninth and then sheepishly has to settle for a single because of how long he stands at home plate watching the ball soar. And how late he finally starts running to first base.
Alvarez immediately apologizes to Astros manager Dusty Baker in the dugout when he’s lifted for pinch runner Chas McCormick. Later, Alvarez apologized to the entire team in the clubhouse. Alvarez still seems a little distraught about it when he meets with reporters after almost everyone else has already gone home.
“Obviously, we won the game, so that’s going to help me sleep a little bit better at night tonight,” Alvarez says in Spanish.
Yes, Kyle Tucker can even be a sleep aid.
Then again, these now 15-11 Astros are all about helping one another. Tucker picks up Yordan Alvarez, who almost wins the game for closer Ryan Pressly — who returns from a three week injury absence by giving up a game-tying, two-out, two-strike, two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning — leading off the bottom of the ninth.
This is what these Astros of Jose Altuve and Dusty Baker do. Fight for each other. Step in when one of them needs a little lift.
“This is probably the most together team I’ve been on,” Baker says. “Especially in a short period of time like this.”
Kyle Tucker and Michael Brantley’s Bond Personifies These Together Astros
These Astros have been bonded through being made the face of the electronic sign stealing era by Major League Baseball. Bonded by being branded as villains in every ballpark in America but Minute Maid. And now, even with some of that furor dying down and that Yankees letter out, the bonds are only growing.
There’s Uncle Mike, the 14-year MLB veteran, chasing after the 25-year-old Tucker with some ice. There are the Astros coming together again on a night when Alvarez probably gained even more respect in the clubhouse by immediately owning up to his mistake and apologizing to everyone he could for failing to run.
“Baseball is a game, like life, that teaches you lessons sometimes,” Baker says, who’s now up to 2,002 career wins just two nights after reaching 2,000. “So that probably won’t happen again. I’m glad that we won the game. We all thought it was gone. But the ball’s not gone until it disappears over the fence.
“(Alvarez) learned a lesson. He would have really felt bad had we lost that ball game.”
Instead, thanks to Tucker and Yuli Gurriel, who follows Alvarez’s long drive single by working a walk off Soto, the music is thumping in the Astros’ clubhouse at the end of the night. And the Astros look like the Astros.
Another walkoff celebration at Minute Maid. Another little four game winning streak. Another Jose Altuve leadoff home run. And even another mammoth home run from wonder rookie Jeremy Pena.
This time, Pena blasts a shot that soars over the high left center field wall and well past the large white Phillips 66 Home Run pump and into the concourse. Some of Elon Musk’s rockets barely travel this far.
Pena seems to be rapidly on his way towards joining Tucker and Alvarez as one of the Astros’ young core hitters. And who would have ever thought that would be the case for the guy replacing Carlos Correa little more than month into his rookie season?
“He’s been aggressive at the plate,” Baker says of Pena. “I had a talk to him about that. He is an intelligent young man. He takes to coaching.”
Welcome to the new Astros world. Could it be even more talented than the old Astros world?
“This is probably the most together team I’ve been on.” — Astros manager Dusty Baker
Either way, Kyle Tucker is certainly a big part of it. He leaves this game with his white jersey and white pants both caked with streaks of dirt. Which is how Kyle Tucker leaves most baseball games he plays. Tucker may always seem to be as a calm as a priest in a confessional, but he plays the game hard.
And in a winning way.
“We put up some pretty good ABs between Yordan, Yuli and I,” Tucker says afterwards. “And it worked out well for us.”
In his earlier on-field TV interview with AT&T SportsNet reporter Julia Morales, Tucker keeps looking over to the side, wary of — and almost expecting — another ice attack from Brantley. Tucker feels cold enough. In actual temperature. Not demeanor.
No worries for Tucker, though. Uncle Mike’s already done his team building for this night. And there are few worries for these together Astros now.