Jose Altuve hit a three run bomb in the ninth to seal it. And then got lifted in the air by backup catcher Garrett Stubbs during the dugout celebration. (@Astros)
The Astros are experts at spraying champagne in October. (@Astros)
Jose Altuve is determined to lead the Astros deep into the playoffs. Again. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa knows what October means for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Lance McCullers Jr. just pounded the zone — and pitched like a true Astros ace. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa knows all about big swings in important spots. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Lance McCullers Jr. is embracing the role of a staff ace for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dallas Keuchel helped teach Lance McCullers Jr. the ways of a staff ace. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa is making his case as the best defensive shortstop in all of baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The White Sox's powerful lineup is always a concern. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve are a combination that drives plenty of winning. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Tim Anderson is a dynamic force against most teams. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Luis Robert and the rest of the White Sox hitters are determined to do enough damage against the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Abreu needs to dominate for the White Sox to really go. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
CHICAGO — Jose Altuve does not need a champagne bath. Or a big clubhouse party Right now, the man who powers baseball’s most underrated modern dynasty just wants a hug from his wife, So that is what Altuve looks for when he gets back onto the field after a spirited, but brief and anything but over-the-top Astros clubhouse celebration.
He wraps Nina Altuve up in a hug and the couple enjoys an almost quiet moment in a largely emptied out stadium. Across the diamond, Zack Greinke’s boys — 6-year-old Bode and younger brother Griffin play tag along the first base line. It is another joyous Astros scene, another berth in the American League Championship Series grabbed, another mouthy opponent silenced. By Altuve.
The now 31-year-old is not the flashiest name with the Astros anymore (that would be free agent superstar shortstop to be Carlos Correa) And he does not hit the longest home runs (that would be Yordan Alvarez). Altuve is not even the most daring Astros baserunner anymore (that would be Kyle Tucker).
But these Astros still go as Altuve goes.
And that is never more apparent than in this 10-1 annihilation of the team that loves to cry cheaters. The White Sox season is over — leaving Tony La Russa to forever whine into the offseason about Jose Abreu being hit — because Altuve had enough.
He singles on the first pitch of the game to get the Astros started and punctuates the romp with a three run bomb in the ninth, adding a little flourish to the White Sox’s misery. Jose Altuve’s final stat line in another clinch or face an elimination game scenario?
Three hits, four runs scored, three RBI, a stolen base and that shut-up-for-good home run. Oh, and a Carlos Rodon 94 MPH fastball to the midsection that he does not whine about. Instead, Jose Altuve shrugs it off like he’s a mini Hercules.
Which he sort of is.
“(Altuve’s) an amazing player. I’m super happy that I play with him,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman tells PaperCity during the post on-field celebration fun. “He’s a great player. Super hard worker. He sets the tone for us always.”
After this one, there are some bitter White Sox fans who aren’t quite ready to give it up. Sort of like La Russa, who claims the Astros have “a character shortage.” As the Astros fans in Guaranteed Rate Field move down close to the dugout to salute their team, several Chicago fans, led by two kids who cannot be more than 11, start screaming, “Astros Suck! Astros Suck! Astros still suck!”
Not at winning in October.
Carlos Correa is an expert at that. So is Alex Bregman. These Core Astros know how to win when the playoffs come and the games grow infinitely more pressurized.
“You know what time it is, baby!” Correa laughs afterwards, pointing at his wrist. “It’s October.”
It is also about time for reliever Ryan Tepera and the rest of the White Sox to shut up and shuffle away. Tepera basically accused the Astros of still cheating in 2021 after the White Sox Game 3 win. Which is like poking the biggest bear in the forest right after you’ve yanked some honey away from him.
“I thought the way we responded today was beautiful,” says Lance McCullers Jr., another of those five Core Astros (Altuve, Correa, Bregman, Yuli Gurriel and McCullers) who’ve been on all five of these Houston ALCS teams.
“If you’re gonna talk shit on other teams, state facts,” Correa says. “If you don’t state facts, you’re gonna lose credibility in this game.”
And you’re going to lose to the Astros. Intentionally antagonizing the Astros in October is riskier than the stupidest TikTok challenge.
It does not matter what the other teams say. Or what the fans scream at the Astros. Or even if they cheer when Altuve gets hit with a fastball (as the White Sox fans classlessly do in this game). The Astros just do their thing.
This Houston team just grabs moments. One after the other.
“These guys have taken us on an unbelievable journey,” Brent Strom, the Astros pitching Yoda who turns 73 on Thursday. “It’s all about the journey.”
As Strom talks to reporters on the field, his wife Carrie patiently waits on the side for him. Over by the dugout, Astros pitcher Jose Urquidy celebrates with his fiancee, with the couple hugging and snapping selfies together. Zack Greinke’s wife Emily watches her energetic kids run around, a glittery Greinke 21 jersey on her back. Lance McCullers Jr. lifts his daughter Ava Rae McCullers into the air and pulls his wife Kara into an embrace.
It’s another Astros family party after another Astros’ clinch. This is what those who scream about this Houston team being the worst thing to happen to baseball miss. This team has a lot of heart on and off the field.
“The players — we all love each other,” Correa says. “And we all take care of each other. We play as a family. And it shows.”
These Astros come through in the most pressurized moments in the unforgiving playoff spotlight. And then celebrate as a family — with their real families.
It’s all about making the most of the moments. Facing an 0-2 count with the bases loaded and the White Sox’s black towel waving fans sensing blood in the third inning, Correa calmly laces a 97 MPH Carlos Rodon fastball into the left field corner. Just like that, he’s driven in two runs. And the Astros suddenly have their first lead of the afternoon.
Soon, a number of Astros hitters are getting in on the party. Martin Maldonado — who is supposed to be a defensive catcher — knocks a single into center field to score Kyle Tucker, who stole second and third base to put the pressure on. Bregman rockets a double into the center field gap to score Altuve and Maldonado.
For the second straight game in Chicago, the Astros take a 5-1 lead. And this time they’re not about to lose that lead.
Now, the Astros get an American League Championship Series where they’ll have home field advantage against the Boston Red Sox and old frenemy Alex Cora, starting with Friday night’s Game 1. This will be the third time since 2017 that Boston and Houston have met in the MLB playoffs.
“I just know that Cora’s running his magic over there again with Boston,” Strom says of the former Astros bench coach. “He is one of the top baseball minds as a manager to me in baseball today.”
Lance McCullers’ Ace Moment
McCullers Jr. is trying to do what Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander have done before him. Go above and beyond in a playoff game. For Keuchel, it was that wildcard win at Yankee Stadium that really started this whole run back in 2015. For Verlander, it was coming out of the bullpen against the Boston Red Sox to push the Astros into their first American League Championship Series in 2017.
That game — when former Astros manager A.J. Hinch went for the jugular and threw his best to try and end the series right then and there rather than rely on a Game 5 at home — set the tone for the greatest era in Astros baseball in many ways. The Astros would always be aggressive and never wait for tomorrow. Starting McCullers in this Game 4 is just the latest example of that approach. It’s all about trying to win Game 4 rather than holding anything back for a potential Game 5.
Which may be why the Astros have only needed to play one Game 5 (against the Rays in ’19) in these pressure packed best-of-5 divisional series during this entire run of five straight American League Championship Series, two World Series and one title.
McCullers only gets four innings in this series clincher due to forearm tightness, but he does enough to limit the White Sox to one run. Once McCullers holds the White Sox down, the hitting party begins in earnest.
That’s what these Astros do. They mine every big game, squeezing out moment after moment after moment.By Altuve.
“He’s a great player. Super hard worker. He sets the tone for us always.” — Alex Bregman on Jose Altuve
“We’ve been here five times,” Altuve says of the Core Astros. “And we just try to pass it on to the guys who are getting here for the first time.”
It does not matter what the other teams say. Or what the fans scream at the Astros. Or even if they cheer when Altuve gets hit with a fastball (as the White Sox fans classlessly do in this game). The Astros just do their thing. And then, in this case, almost nonchalantly party.
The Astros have been here before. Five times over. On this afternoon, they pull on Pennant Chase 2021 T-shirts, more winning souvenirs for the team of October.
“It was good,” McCullers says of the clubhouse celebration.”It was a little tame. I think everyone was excited of course. But this is not our ultimate goal”
Jose Altuve finds his wife. He gets that hug. He sees happy teammates all around, grabbing their own postgame slice of bliss. All is good in Astros land.