WASHINGTON -- Alex Bregman had been his own biggest critic as his struggles at the plate continued during the World Series. Through three games of the Fall Classic, he was 1-for-13, including an 0-for-5 performance in Game 3 on Friday night.
Bregman has struggled in key situations throughout the postseason, but if the Astros complete the comeback and win the World Series, the at-bat that may have helped him turn things around was an inning-ending forceout with the bases loaded on Friday.
In the sixth inning of that game, the Nationals opted to walk Michael Brantley in order to load the bases against Bregman. With Fernando Rodney on the mound, the Nats decided they liked their chances against the right-handed-hitting Bregman. Walking someone to load the bases against an American League MVP Award candidate was a controversial decision by Washington, but one that ultimately ended up working for manager Dave Martinez as Rodney retired Bregman to end the inning.
But while Bregman was unable to extend the lead and ended up hitless in the game, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa leaned over the dugout railing and noticed something that not many people in the ballpark or on television picked up. The decision to walk Brantley was going to light a fire in Bregman.
“After that walk, I said, ‘Oh no, you don’t do that to him,’” Correa said.
Correa felt so confident that Bregman was going to be upset by the Nationals’ decision, he stood in front of his locker following Game 3’s win and told the media that Bregman was “going to go off” in Game 4. And that’s exactly what Bregman did, as the Astros evened the series with an 8-1 win at Nationals Park on Saturday night thanks in no small part due to the third baseman’s seventh-inning grand slam.
Bregman, who spent most of his day inside the batting cage, got Houston on the board early with an RBI single in the first inning. But in the seventh, he got a chance to face Rodney for the second consecutive night with the bases loaded, and he didn’t miss his opportunity.
Bregman delivered the dagger, launching a slam off Rodney to give the Astros a comfortable seven-run lead. It was the 20th grand slam in World Series history, the second by a third baseman (Ken Boyer, 1964) and the fifth by a cleanup hitter (Paul Konerko (2005), Boyer, Yogi Berra (1956) and Elmer Smith (‘20).
With five RBIs in Game 4, Bregman tied Houston's single-game postseason franchise record, joining Carlos Beltrán in Game 5 of the 2004 National League Division Series and Morgan Ensberg in Game 1 of the ’05 NLDS. He also became the first third baseman in World Series history to record five RBIs in a game.
“This game is a game of failure, and you’re going to fail a heck of a lot more than you succeed in it,” Bregman said. “I think the feeling that I had when I hit that was I was pretty fired up. I wanted to help my team win a game and get this series back to 2-2.”
Despite reaching the World Series, the Astros felt they had not performed offensively at the level that led them to a 107-win season. The lineup has sputtered throughout the playoffs, and a lot of that has to do with Bregman’s struggles.
“He’s one of the best players in baseball,” said Astros manager AJ Hinch. “He’s been our rock in the middle of the order, and it’s tough when you see him not be as consistent [as he was] during the season. But there’s not a man in that clubhouse that was doubting that he was going to play big for us at some point when given the opportunity again.”
While Bregman highlighted the offensive outburst, the rest of Houston's lineup is starting to resemble the one that guided the team to the best record in the Majors. Brantley continues to swing the bat well, recording three more hits on Saturday, and José Altuve remains one of the best hitters in the league.
The Astros jumped out to an early 2-0 lead against Nationals starter Patrick Corbin and showed off their calculated aggressiveness early in the count. Opposing hitters entered Saturday’s game 3-for-8 against Corbin on the first two pitches of an at-bat, and Houston took advantage of that approach. All three of the run-scoring hits off Corbin came on either the first or second pitch of the at-bat.
The Astros went 14-2 when Brantley and Bregman each recorded two hits in a game in the regular season, their last loss coming on Aug. 14 against the A’s.
“I feel like the Houston Astros are back,” Correa said.
The next three games will ultimately determine if the Astros have finally turned the corner, but Saturday was a definite step in the right direction. Houston capitalized with runners in scoring position (5-for-13), it worked at-bats and it was aggressive when it had a favorable count early.
Even as they faced an 0-2 deficit after losing the first two games of the World Series at home, Astros players consistently talked about the confidence they had about putting together a pair of complete games in order to send the series back to Minute Maid Park.
Houston’s offense has recorded 27 hard-hit balls over the last two games, including 13 in Game 4, but that challenge gets tougher as the Astros will face Max Scherzer in Game 5 on Sunday night and will have to deal with Stephen Strasburg in Game 6 on Tuesday night. They had six hard-hit balls against Scherzer in Game 1 and pushed him to 112 pitches in just five innings, but could only get two runs across in the loss.
“I think [Scherzer] is one of the best pitchers in the game,” Bregman said. “It’s always fun to compete against the best. We’ve got two of the best pitchers in the game facing off tomorrow in the World Series, tied 2-2, it’s a lot of fun.”