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Culture / Sporting Life

Neither Yordan Alvarez Nor Kyle Tucker are Replacing George Springer for the Astros

Super Prospects or Not, There is No Duplicating Legit AL MVP Contender's Unique Impact for Houston

BY // 05.25.19

George Springer gingerly moves across the Houston Astros clubhouse, stopping to talk to reporters at a back wall near the entrance. Call it one of the final detours before he hits Major League Baseball’s new Injured List. On a night when the Astros continue their newfound regular season dominance of the Boston Red Sox, their 2019 MVP returns and gets hurt all over again.

Springer could be hobbling away for a significant portion of time now.

“I’m not looking forward to the diagnosis to be honest with you,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch says after the game, a 4-3 win that turns into the Jake Marisnick show. “It doesn’t look very good. He never pulls himself out of a game like that.”

The clamor for star prospect Yordan Alvarez will grow even louder now. Even if the almost equally Triple A hot Kyle Tucker may be the better option based on service time considerations and other factors (Tucker’s hit nine home runs in May). Instead, the team calls up Derek Fisher, the least exciting choice of all.

No one can accuse Astros GM Jeff Luhnow of trying to sell extra tickets on this holiday weekend. Not that it truly matters.

Neither Alvarez or Tucker, or even this new reborn super Marisnick, is replacing Springer. No combination of all three can equal Springer for the Astros.

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This isn’t the Golden State Warriors and Kevin Durant. The Astros aren’t better — or anything close to more exciting — without their star who’s hobbled by a leg injury.

There is no replacing what George Chelston Springer III gives this Houston team — no matter how super the prospect or great the comeback story is. Springer’s arguably been the best player in the American League this season. He’s a leadoff weapon the likes of which no one else in baseball has.

The rest of the Astros don’t just follow Springer in the batting order. They follow him in hustle too.

Watching that irreplaceable force limp off in the middle of an inning hit the best team in baseball like Jon Snow not petting his direwolf in the first goodbye of that final season hit whining Game of Thrones fans.

“George never takes himself out of the game,” Astros outfielder Tony Kemp tells PaperCity. “You know when he comes out of the game it’s something serious. It’s tough to see a teammate go through that. Especially how hard he plays and with the passion that he plays with.

“Seeing him go down is hard.”

Springer is going hard (as usual), relentlessly chasing a ball in foul territory when he slides in the dirt — and almost immediately knows something has gone wrong. He comes up hobbling, seemingly unable to put his full weight on his left leg. The injury will be officially dubbed “a left hamstring issue.”

Springer slams his hat down when he reaches the dugout, his frustration apparent for all to see. In his first game back after missing four games with back stiffness, the early AL MVP contender gets hurt again.

Sometimes sports really are cruel.

“It sucks to be honest,” Springer says.

The frenzy of excitement over Yordan Alvarez — and the lesser enthusiasm over Tucker, whose first stint in the Majors is judged way too harshly by Astros fans — should be tempered by the realization that there is only one George Springer. And everyone is going to be robbed of seeing him play baseball for a while.

This isn’t the Golden State Warriors and Kevin Durant. The Astros aren’t better — or anything close to more exciting — without their star who’s hobbled by a leg injury.

That’s not just a loss for the Houston Astros. It’s a loss for the Major League Baseball, which needs all the exciting stars it can get  these days.

“The guy plays the game hard,” Astros starting pitcher Wade Miley says of Springer. “He plays it the right way.”

George Springer dive Astros
George Springer goes all out for every ball in the outfield. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)

Sometimes, George Springer’s all-out relentlessness can save a playoff game with a Spider-Man catch. And sometimes it can get him hurt chasing after a foul ball that he probably he has no chance to catch.

You’d be crazy to want to change what makes him.

Showdown Specialists

The Astros are now 6-1 against the Red Sox and Yankees so far this season, no small feat in an American League with a few super teams and plenty of dregs.

This start against Boston is not anything close to revenge for that 4-1 American League Championship Series loss last October. That type of debt can only be paid in the postseason. But it’s still plenty significant.

“There are no secrets with these good teams,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora, the former World Series season Astros coach, says. “We know that.”

And so far in 2019, there is no secret that the Astros are playing like they’re a far superior team. Not every team has a No. 9 hitter (Marisnick) who can hit a home run off Sale, one of the best pitchers in the game, and make two no-he-didn’t highlights of gloved grand larceny out in centerfield.

“They’re both pretty fun,” Marisnick says when asked if the home run or the defensive wizardry bring him more joy.

On this late May night, only the Astros look like world championship material. Houston’s first run scores when Boston first baseman Steve Pearce sails a through way past the reach of even the 6-foot-6 Chris Sale. And the Red Sox give away another run in the fourth when all-star shortstop Xander Bogaerts rockets a throw into no man’s land. Worse, Cora’s team cannot even execute a simple rundown when Marisnick is caught between first and second.

What should be a simple out turns into a comedy show worthy of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First?”

In the eighth inning, Boston caps it off by allowing a foul ball to drop between four Red Sox. Homer Simpson has had better job performance days at the power plant.

These Astros aren’t just one of the best teams in baseball. They’re also one of the most opportunistic teams in baseball. Give them extra outs and you’ll suffer as surely as the victim in a horror movie.

“Very rarely do we win when we get out hit,” Hinch says. “We just played a cleaner game than them.”

Houston scores four runs in a game when it only gets four hits. That’s Marie Kondo efficiency.

It is also the mark of a team that plays as hard as its 29-year-old injured leader. The rest of the Astros don’t just follow Springer in the batting order. They follow him in hustle too.

“It’s the way we run down to first on ground balls,” Kemp says. “And it’s the way that we sprint on doubles. When we hit the ball in the hole or right at somebody, they know they have to be perfect. That’s how this team’s always played.

“Being able to do that puts pressure on a team.”

Cora’s bunch is certainly feeling it.

Little has gone right for the Red Sox on their first trip to Houston since they sprayed champagne all over the visitors clubhouse last October, soaking it to an extent that necessitated a carpet change. Their plane from Toronto on Thursday afternoon experienced mechanical issues and had to be diverted to Detroit for an unscheduled stop. By the time a new plane brought the defending champions to Houston, it was after midnight.

Still relatively early on a professional baseball player’s internal clock, but not ideal.

But on the a night when the Red Sox make both Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna — the usually unhittable back end of the Astros bullpen — sweat, Houston’s loss may be even greater than the Red Sox’s. Springer is going to be out for a while. J.D. Martinez, Boston’s $110 million man, gets through his own first game back from injury with little difficulty.

“AJ was hoping he wouldn’t play this weekend,” Cora jokes of Martinez before the game. “But he makes the big bucks, he needs to be out there.”

Martinez is presumably going to be available for the rest of this series (though he is not in the starting lineup Saturday night), while Springer is gone. That is a loss for the Astros even on a night when almost everything else goes right.

Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker very well could be legit stars on the come. But they’re not George Springer. There is only one Springer.

And he’s gone for at least the near future.

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