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Altuve, Clemens reflect on 9/11, first responders

@brianmctaggart
September 11, 2019

HOUSTON -- Astros second baseman José Altuve hadn't yet made his way to the United States when the terrorist attacks occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. Altuve was only 11 years old, living in his native Venezuela and was 10 years away from making his Major League debut. Still, the events

HOUSTON -- Astros second baseman José Altuve hadn't yet made his way to the United States when the terrorist attacks occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. Altuve was only 11 years old, living in his native Venezuela and was 10 years away from making his Major League debut.

Still, the events that unfolded that day struck him to the core, and the former American League MVP continues to hold first responders in high regard. On Wednesday, he visited Houston Fire Department Station No. 27 as part of the Astros' Adopt-A-Fire Station program and presented the firehouse with a framed No. 27 jersey.

"You realize even more everything they do, when you go there and they show you around, and they talk to you about the details on what they do on a daily basis," Altuve said. "Obviously, today is 9/11 and we're always going to thank them. Even though I was back in my country when that happened, but now I'm here and I learned how to love this country. I feel emotional about that."

In commemoration of the anniversary of the attacks, the Astros held First Responders Night at Minute Maid Park. A large American flag was unfurled during the national anthem as first responders from the Houston area lined the basepaths. Houston Pipes and Drums performed the "Houston Blues" pregame, and the Houston Police Department was set to perform God Bless America in the seventh inning.

Roger Clemens, who serves as a special assistant to the general manager, was scheduled to start for the Yankees in New York on the day of the attacks. A huge supporter of the military, Clemens was invited by former Gen. Richard B. Myers, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to go on a pre-Christmas military tour in 2002 to visit troops in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf region.

"Those couple of weeks there in New York with everything that went on, it was tough just for the fact almost every day you ran into families that lost loved one, whether in the Twin Towers or military families, firemen and police officers," Clemens said.

When baseball returned to New York, Clemens started the game when former President George W. Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Wearing a bulletproof vest, Bush threw a strike from the mound at Yankee Stadium. Clemens was warming up in the outfield with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre when they stopped to watch Bush's famous first pitch.

"He was in the batting cage with Derek [Jeter], and Derek [was] telling him not to bounce it," Clemens said. "He went out there with that vest on and threw a perfect strike."

Verlander, Cole impress Clemens
No one has won more Cy Young Awards than Clemens, who pulled in seven during his remarkable career. That included one in his first season with the Astros in 2004. He's one of only three Astros pitchers to have won a Cy Young -- Mike Scott in the National League in 1986 and Dallas Keuchel in the AL in 2015 -- but that group figures to grow by one this year.

Astros pitchers Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are considered the top two front-runners for the AL Cy Young Award. Each has four starts remaining, with Verlander facing the A's in Thursday's series finale and Cole pitching Friday's series opener at Kansas City.

"I like watching them because they don't walk anybody," Clemens said. "They attack the zone. Both of them can pitch up, which a lot of guys are doing these last few years. Guys really feature the ball up and they can feature the ball down in the zone, which is similar to what I did when I had a fastball and a split. They attack the zone in a good spot. They've got guys that score runs so you don't have to be too fine. They've been kicking butt and taking names lately."

Verlander said he wants to pitch until he's 45, which Clemens -- who pitched until he was 44 -- said Verlander can do if he continues to take care of his body.

"I hope he enjoys ice," Clemens joked.

Gurriel set to return
First baseman Yuli Gurriel is expected to return to the starting lineup Friday for the first time since he reported a left hamstring strain a week ago. Gurriel hasn't played since going 1-for-3 in last Friday's win over the Mariners at Minute Maid Park.

Gurriel has set single-season career high marks for RBIs (98), homers (27), walks (35) and runs scored (78), while batting .304. He's hit .361 with 22 doubles, 22 homers and 66 RBIs in 60 games since June 23. He went through full drills Wednesday and will run the bases aggressively on Thursday.

"Once he proves to us and proves to himself that there is no hesitation, no lack of confidence or no concern, then I'll consider playing him on Friday," manager AJ Hinch said. "He might be available [Thursday] if things go perfectly these next two days, pregame-wise. I would target Friday as a time hopefully he's back in the lineup."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.