Altuve slam lifts offense out of funk

After no homers during four-game skid, Astros hit three to rally in Cleveland

July 2nd, 2021

In desperate need of a clutch hit to break his team out of its offensive malaise, came through for the Astros on Thursday night in Cleveland.

Altuve’s second grand slam of the season -- a go-ahead shot in the fifth inning -- was one of three homers clubbed by the Astros, who snapped a four-game losing streak with a 7-2 win over the Indians in the series opener at Progressive Field.

“We had lost four in a row,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We did know that Oakland lost today, so that was big to gain that game back [and take a 1½-game lead in the American League West].”

The Astros were trailing, 2-1, in the fifth inning when Altuve crushed a 1-2 pitch from Indians starter J.C. Mejia and hit a grand slam down the left-field line. hit a Statcast-projected 446-foot homer in the fourth, and homered in the seventh.

Houston, which didn’t hit a homer in its four-game skid, improved to 25-4 in games this year when hitting multiple homers.

“As a team, you have to stay confident that you're going to go out there and score some runs, and that’s what we did tonight,” said Altuve, whose grand slam was the fifth of his career.

Altuve's four RBIs pushed him over 600 for his career (603) and past Doug Rader and into eighth place all time on Houston’s RBI list. Altuve was 1-for-12 with two RBIs during the club’s four-game losing streak. Still, since turning 31 on May 6, he’s hitting .303 with 17 homers and 38 RBIs.

Altuve’s homer had another impact beyond simply putting the Astros ahead. Baker said it enabled them to ride starting pitcher for another inning because they had the lead, and he threw a 1-2-3 seventh. Baker said there were four or five relievers who were unavailable.

“That was huge,” Baker said. “It gave us some breathing room, permitted us to take Framber an extra inning and he was actually better in that last inning than he was in the whole ballgame. It looks like when he gets tired, his breaking ball is better and his rhythm and everything is better. That was a tremendous lift for us.”

Valdez (5-1) overcame five walks -- three of which came in a 35-pitch second inning -- and allowed two runs and four hits while striking out six in seven innings, lowering his ERA to 2.18 in seven starts this year.

“It didn’t look good in the beginning,” Baker said. “He couldn’t find his breaking ball. He had a couple of leadoff walks in an inning, and that always leads to danger. What saved him, us and his pitch count was the three double plays that he threw up. That was huge. When his sinker is working, that’s what he usually does; he throws up ground balls.”

Valdez has given the Astros six consecutive quality starts after throwing four innings in his first start of the season May 28. He missed the first two months after breaking his finger in his first start of the spring March 2, but he has quickly recaptured his workhorse form.

“I felt it was important tonight to get six, seven innings and give some rest to our bullpen and only use one or two guys like we did tonight,” said Valdez, who led the Majors in innings pitched last year in the regular season and postseason combined. “I admit it was three tough innings for me at the beginning of the game, but I was able to overcome those, which I think is really important. I see my outing as a success to be able to get to seven innings after those first three innings.”