Culture / Sporting Life

Small Ball Heroes — Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw Show That the Astros Are Good for the Game of Baseball

Dusty Baker's Team is Winning With the Little Things — and MLB Should be Overjoyed

BY // 04.29.21

Baseball is supposed to be all about home runs and strikeouts these days. That’s the lament of traditionalists, the stuff of many an alarming headline and in-the-game study. But apparently, someone forgot to tell Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw that. When these two are flying around the bases, making things happen for the Houston Astros, the excitement of another way is unmistakable.

Who needs the long ball?

Not Dusty Baker’s team. Not on a sleepy Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park that turns into the night of an impressive comeback. The Astros rally from a 5-2 deficit to stun their personal punching bag Seattle Mariners 7-5 with four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Without hitting a home run all night. Or anything for extra bases besides a lone Yuli Gurriel double in the sixth.

In fact, one of the plays of the night is Tucker stealing first and scoring from second on an all-out sprint on a single to left field. It’s not the kind of thing that will make a highlight package or get promoted in a video game commercial. But it sure impressed fellow Astros speed freak Myles Straw.

“It’s tough to score on a base hit to left field here,” Straw says. “. . .  I always see it. I was on deck and I got to home plate and I was like, ‘Man, it’s gonna to be tough.’ You know, Tuck can run. And he scored there. It’s all the little things that count in this game.”

These Astros are not going to be the team that brings small ball back in its entirety. Not even close. Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Co. will hit plenty of home runs. Tucker’s hit five of them already himself — in a slow start. Baker’s team will go on long ball binges as it did at the very beginning of this season. Especially if Yordan Alvarez can come back from another absence feeling like himself.


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But being able to win in another way may be priceless in the first season in a while in which a playoff berth does not seem guaranteed for Jim Crane’s franchise.

“If you put the ball in play, like I’ve always said, you have a chance to do something,” Baker says. “That’s this team. We don’t strikeout a whole bunch of times. Most of the at-bats are quality at-bats.”

Being opportunistic brings plenty of rewards. The Astros score their first two runs on this night because of Tucker’s steal and sprint from second and Straw’s infield single RBI. They get their four runs in the eighth with the help of a Kyle Tucker infield single, a Mariners’ throwing error, a Straw walk, a Jason Castro walk with the bases loaded and a Jose Altuve sacrifice fly.

It’s a rally that sounds almost as boring as the 2021 Oscars telecast, but it sure looks beautiful on the record.

“I feel like this team expects to win,” Straw says. “So it’s kinda like another win honestly.” — Myles Straw

These once snow mired and dazed Astros (13-11) have now six of seven to move just a game and a half back of the no longer red-hot Oakland A’s in the American League West. Small wins can lead to big things. And Houston’s own baseball Yoda knows it.

“We’re not clicking on all cylinders, but we’re winning games,” Baker, the 71-year-old baseball lifer who’s seen it all, says. “Someday we’re going to click on all cylinders. And I don’t think we’re that far off.”

In the meantime, the Astros will delight in winning every which way they can. By pinch hitter or walk. By dashes of speed and sacrifices.

“I feel like this team expects to win,” Straw says. “So it’s kinda like another win honestly. We all know as a team that was a huge win. The pitchers. The hitters. And the coaches. But we’re trying to keep our demeanor and get back to the way we know.

“And that’s just winning ballgames.”

Kyle Tucker’s Burst and Dusty Dust

Baker, who is always quick to credit his coaches, probably does not get the credit he deserves for helping keep the Astros’ confidence and belief at a championship level even if their starting pitching may not be quite at that level. With no Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole, these Astros still keep themselves in the conversation.

“We’ve got a good team all the way around,” Astros starter Zack Greinke says of the comeback on a night when his own command is off. “It’s not surprising. We didn’t give up like a crazy amount of runs. Kept it close enough. It wasn’t going to be easy, but knew there was a chance still.”

It’s a rally that sounds almost as boring as the 2021 Oscars telecast, but it sure looks beautiful on the record.

The talent infusion of Tucker is a big part of the Astros continuing to have a chance to make noise. Coming off a 2020 in which he essentially was the Astros’ regular season MVP, Tucker has put up the type of batting average (.187 heading into Thursday afternoon’s game) this April that looks more like your typical reality TV star’s grade point average. But he rewarded Baker’s decision to bat him fourth with Alvarez out by scoring two runs in this small ball-palooza.

Houston Astros vs. Seattle Mariners. Lance McCullers pitches 2nd game of 2020 season a Minute Maid Park
Kyle Tucker’s speed can be a legitimate difference maker for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Even with the hits not coming, Tucker is contributing to winning games.

“He’s hitting the ball, I think, harder than anybody in the league for not getting hits,” Baker says. “Keep hitting the ball like that and something good’s going to happen. It looks like he’s not doing very well, but he still has like five home runs and 15 RBIs or something like that. And that’s on a pace for 30 and 90. And he’s not even hot yet.”

Except on the base paths, where Tucker and Straw always seem to be cooking. If all the Astros haters are not careful, they’re going to be in for a dilemma. For Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw are giving everyone a reminder of what a happy jolt small ball can be. You could even say they’re helping to save baseball from itself.

Of course, no Astro is supposed to be able to do anything like that. That might complicate the next trash can toss. Nah. . . But there these two Astros are, screaming around the bases, breaking up the game’s home run and strikeout parade with dashes of fun. Elbows churning and batting helmets sometimes flying. Always taking the extra base. Always digging for more.

It’s a joy. It’s the Astros, too.

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