How much, how deeply does the rest of the world want to see the Astros suffer during baseball’s platform month?
Jose Altuve is unwittingly putting that question to a test.
The Astros’ roller-coaster 2020 campaign stands at the edge of the proverbial cliff, one loss away from its conclusion after an ugly 5-2 defeat to the Rays in American League Championship Series Game 3 at Petco Park in San Diego. The ugliness emanated from the game-changing inning, the top of the sixth, when the Rays scored all of their runs to turn the tables once more on the club that ousted them in last year’s AL Division Series. Now the Rays have jumped ahead to a 3-0 lead and put themselves in position to claim their second-ever World Series appearance with a win Wednesday in Game 4.
“We’ve got to find a way to win a game tomorrow,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
The key play of this game’s key inning? A throwing error by Altuve — just as an Altuve throwing error in Game 2 (the first of two by him in that contest) opened the door for the game-winning, three-run homer by Tampa Bay’s Manuel Margot. The bruised face of this tainted franchise, Altuve has committed three throwing errors in this series after making zero in the regular season plus the playoffs’ first two rounds.
Asked whether the 2017 American League Most Valuable Player was developing a case of the yips, Astros manager Dusty Baker said: “I really don’t know. It’s tough to see this to happen to such a great player and such a great guy. I don’t know what it’s called. You can go in a defensive slump the same way as you can go in an offensive slump. The physical turns mental. We certainly have to get past this, for sure, without a doubt.”
Baker said he would start Altuve at the keystone for Game 4.
Coming off the rough Game 2, Altuve slugged a first-inning solo homer off Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough to give his club a quick advantage in this one, and he cleanly handled a Brandon Lowe grounder in the third inning. All seemed copacetic.
Then came the top of the sixth. Against Astros starter Jose Urquidy, who had registered 1-2-3 fourth and fifth innings after dancing with danger in the early going, super rookie Randy Arozarena led off with a base hit to left field. The lefty-swinging Lowe pulled the ball to a well-positioned Altuve, who was shaded to the right of his standard spot. Altuve turned and bounced his relay to Carlos Correa, who couldn’t prevent the ball from skipping into left field, leaving everyone safe and setting off sirens around the game.
Anyone old enough to remember how the Dodgers’ Steve Sax and the Yankees’ Chuck Knoblauch struggled with yips will feel for Altuve, no matter how many stolen signs he received or, as per a conspiracy theory that emerged days after Rob Manfred formalized the sign-stealing scandal, whether he truly wore a buzzer that allowed him to hit a pennant-winning home run off the Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman in last year’s ALCS.
“Well he’s a great player, there’s no doubt. He’s a really special player. Hall of Fame caliber player. It is surprising to see that,” Cash said. “But you do whatever you can to make the most of the opportunities that the opposition presents you.”
The Rays did that, following Altuve’s botched throw with two singles, two hit batters and a two-run double by pinch-hitter Hunter Renfroe.
“Nobody feels worse than Jose,” Baker said. “He takes it very seriously. He takes it to heart. … We’ve all been through this before, not in this spotlight like this. It hurts us all to see him hurting. We’ll give him all the support that he needs.
After staggering through a 29-31 regular season, the ’Stros upset both the Twins and the Athletics to make it this far. Now they could wind up in a lose-lose: Literally losing while walking away not with pride over an October rebound, but rather with concerns about the great Altuve.
Credit: Source link