Culture / Sporting Life

Alex Bregman Making His Long-Awaited Return, Luis Garcia Pitching With Joy and Carlos Correa’s Street Fighter Swagger Shows the Astros Are Fully Back

Finally Whole and Ready to Chase Another World Series Run

BY // 08.25.21

Luis Garcia has to lead the Major Leagues in laughs per interview. This 24-year-old Astros rookie pitching savior seems to find the joy in everything, even those tasks that many professional baseball players grumble over or just tolerate. Garcia is happiness personified — and the Houston Astros are suddenly starting to take on his outlook. That’s what getting Alex Bregman back and a pitching performance like this can do.

Bregman will play for the Astros for the first time in 59 games on Wednesday afternoon against the Kansas City Royals. And Luis Garcia is showing he deserves the chance to pitch big games in October.

The Astros’ good feelings are picking up with Bregman finally ready to come back from his mysterious quad injury and Kyle Tucker back from a COVID list absence. Carlos Correa wears a sweet vintage Street Fighter video game T-shirt to his postgame Zoom press conference on this night, a fitting symbol of a team regaining the full extent of its swagger.

“It’s perfect to get the guys back,” Correa says. “To get the full lineup, at full strength, it will be great. Guys  who obviously been replacing Bregman and Tucker, they’ve been doing a great job. They’ve been contributing in a big way. But having the team together once again will be great.”

Not that Luis Garcia’s happiness ever wavered.

The joyful man from Barinitas, Venezuela has been a revelation for the Astros all season, showing near dominant strikeout stuff start after start. Filling a gaping hole in the rotation that the Astros did not imagine they’d have. And there he is again on this Tuesday night, stopping the silliness of one of baseball’s best teams losing to the Kansas City Royals.

One pitch. One happy smile at a time.

Luis Garcia, Mr. Happy

Garcia makes 90 pitches — and breaks into at least three full laughs during his postgame presser — on this night. It’s a night that sees Garcia stifle the Royals in a 4-0 Astros win, and charm anew. This is one of the more refreshing athletes in professional sports today, one of the best stories in all of baseball, too.

“I was trying to be focused and execute my pitches like I did,” Garcia says. “And I’m very happy that I did.”

Garcia breaks into a laugh. “Just that I think,” he finishes with another big smile.

Houston Astros faced the Los Angeles Dodgers and pitcher Trevor Bauer in game two of a series at Minute Maid Park
Luis Garcia has gone from afterthought to essential Astros arm. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Baker usually likes to take Garcia out after 70 or 75 pitches these days, but he sends the rookie back out for the seventh inning on this night. Garcia will get 20 of the 27 outs the Astros need, not giving up a single run and striking out seven. It is the kind of performance that almost demands that this unlikely rotation savior get a playoff start.

Luis Garcia has certainly pitched much better than James Click’s $23.5 million free agent signing Jake Odorizzi. Yes, Odorizzi is a veteran with a little playoff experience with the Twins, but the kid with the mustache and the flowing curly hair has much better stuff at this point. Which doesn’t mean Odorizzi can still not be valuable — this season and beyond — for the Astros.

It’s more about how well Garcia has pitched.

Garcia has already thrown 123 and 1/3 innings this season, already besting the career-high 110 innings he threw in his most intense minor league season. How the Astros handle his workload in the lead up to October will be fascinating. This 24-year-0ld rookie is now a very valuable arm, but it’s hard to imagine this Astros braintrust shutting him down before the playoffs a la Stephen Strasburg.

The Astros returning to a six man rotation when Jose Urquidy comes back in early September seems to be all but a given, though. Garcia will be protected, if not coddled.

On this night, he’s asked about the possibility of winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Rangers outfielder Adolis Garcia has been considered the favorite for the honor most of the season with his 27 home runs. But it’s hard to discount what Luis Garcia has done (a 10-6 record and 3.21 ERA with 144 strikeouts in 123 and 1/3 innings) for one of the best teams in baseball.

“He’s got a strong case the way he’s been pitching,” Correa says. “We’re a first place team and he’s been a big part of it. He should be up there.”

It’s that kind of Astros night — a night to think of the great possibilities to come. A night to revel in the joy.

Carlos Correa doubles off the Chevrolet sign in center field to collect his second RBI of the game. The Royals allow two runs to score on what should have been the third out of the first inning thanks to a throwing error from shortstop Nicky Lopez. Then, Kansas City somehow fails to score a single run itself after putting runners on second and third with no outs thanks to a nifty double steal. The last out of that inning comes when Michael Taylor gets tagged trying to swipe home. Thanks to an alert Luis Garcia.

Yes, order is being restored to the baseball universe. Astros style.

Alex Bregman and Embracing the Joy

Astros owner Jim Crane and his wife, Whitney Crane, sit in the second row, taking it all in, one row behind Mattress Mack in his orange Alex Bregman jersey. Now Bregman is returning.

The Astros’ lead in the American League West is slowly growing. Oakland loses for the ninth time in its last 12 games Tuesday, dropping a full four and a half games back.

It’s a good day to be an Astro. It never seems like it’s a bad day to be Luis Garcia.

Luis Garcia will get 20 of the 27 outs the Astros need, not giving up a single run and striking out seven. It is the kind of performance that almost demands that this unlikely rotation savior get a playoff start.

“I feel really good,” Mr. Happy says. “I feel really good physically thank God. And I’m just trying to be as prepared as I can for my next outings.”

The Astros are almost all suddenly feeling good. It’s still August, still oppressively hot in Houston, still the dog days of the baseball season. But you can create your own joy. Alex Bregman being back helps. Luis Garcia being Luis Garcia does too.

De Beers


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