Astros' patience pays off as Abreu comes up clutch in ALDS

October 15th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- had a rather inauspicious beginning to his Astros tenure, recording his worst season at the plate in a decade in the big leagues.

But it's not over yet.

A few big swings in the postseason can go a long way, and all of a sudden, Abreu is looking more than worthy of the three-year, $58.5 million deal he inked with Houston last November.

The veteran slugger launched his third home run in his past two games, a two-run shot to send the Astros past the Twins, 3-2, in Game 4 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday night.

The Astros' path to their seventh straight AL Championship Series -- an all-Texas showdown with the Rangers -- was more challenging than in previous years, as they spent much of the season out of first place in the AL West and did not clinch the division until Game 162. 

But Houston had faith that its experience and tenacity would kick in at just the right time.

"Life will put some challenges out there for you and make it difficult for you," Abreu said in Spanish through interpreter Jenloy Herrera. "But this group of guys, they're all warriors. When they're warriors, there's nothing to worry about."

Much of the attention was on Yordan Alvarez in the ALDS -- and deservedly so, as the Astros' superstar tore up Twins pitching and bolstered his reputation as one of the most feared sluggers in the game. But it was Abreu who set the tone in the road portion of Houston's series against Minnesota, driving in seven runs in two games at Target Field.

Abreu's two-homer, five-RBI performance in Tuesday’s Game 3 earned him some rather vocal displeasure from the Twins' faithful whenever he stepped to the plate on Wednesday. Much like the day before, he delivered a dagger to silence the raucous home crowd.

With Alvarez on first and one out in the fourth inning, Abreu barreled up a four-seamer from Twins left-hander Caleb Thielbar and sent it a Statcast-projected 424 feet to right-center to break a 1-1 tie and send the Astros ahead for good.

“It feels like he steps up every big situation," Jeremy Peña said.

Abreu had been trending in the right direction since he returned from an injured-list stint with lumbar spine inflammation in late August, but he finished the regular season having posted career lows in most offensive stats. His power, in particular, had declined, as he slugged just .383.

The Astros nevertheless remained confident that Abreu still had some semblance of his 2020 AL MVP form left in the tank.

"There are times when you just have to rely on faith and rely on a guy's background," manager Dusty Baker said. "I was always taught that water seeks its own level. It took a little while, but … he drove in [28] runs in [the regular season's final month]. That's getting it done … in the clutch. He had a big series here, and hopefully he can continue that against Texas and hopefully the World Series."

Throughout a difficult season that saw Abreu experience a career-long homerless streak and otherwise struggle to live up to the lofty expectations that accompanied his contract, he handled himself well off the field.

"He's a guy that's very even-tempered," Baker said. "When he was going poorly, he told me, 'It's OK, it's OK.' Then when he was going great, he was like, 'It's OK, it's OK.' 

"When it was going poorly, I was like, 'Man, it ain't OK.' But in his mind, he knew that it was OK."

Abreu didn't comment on how much he was aware of the noise surrounding his on-field performance, but he maintained that he had the right people in his corner to help him weather an up-and-down year.

"The most important thing is that I have family that supports me," Abreu said. "I have two kids that love me. My mom has always been there, my wife … God bless. Obviously, I had an organization that's always been there for me, and my teammates, independently of the moment, have always supported me. So what else can I ask for?"

Now that the Astros have gotten a taste of what Abreu can do at his best, they're hoping that he can ride that momentum into the ALCS and possibly beyond.

As for what Abreu has learned from his team in a gritty year?

"They never get tired," he said. "They never give up."