Altuve scores … on an infield popup

April 3rd, 2021

Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker pounded his bat into the ground after hitting a one-out popup in the seventh inning of Friday night's 9-5 win against the A’s in Oakland, frustrated he had wasted an RBI opportunity with teammate standing on third base.

Not so fast.

As A’s shortstop Elvis Andrus, shifted to the right side, drifted back and routinely caught the popup about 10 feet beyond the infield dirt in shallow right field, Altuve caught him off guard. Andrus paused for a beat before realizing Altuve was breaking for home, sliding in safely ahead of Andrus’ desperation throw.

That’s right, Altuve scored on a sacrifice fly … to the shortstop. It was the kind of energetic and aggressive baseball that was largely missing from the Astros’ DNA last year when they trudged their way to an uninspiring 29-31 record in the regular season.

“I think it’s just a reaction, adrenaline that I had the whole game,” Altuve said. “It was a little risky, but I’m happy I ended up scoring that run.”

The hustling play, which left Tucker with an unexpected RBI and gave the Astros a 6-2 lead, had Altuve and his teammates smiling from ear to ear in the dugout. Altuve reached base in all five plate appearances Friday as the leadoff hitter -- a role George Springer held down the previous five seasons.

Altuve’s run in the seventh -- one of four he scored Friday -- was the difference in the game before the Astros batted around in the ninth and scored three runs off reliever Jake Diekman to blow it open.

“Jose is one of the top energy players in the game,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “A very intelligent player and a great baserunner. That was the shortest sacrifice fly I’ve ever seen. Tuck was upset he popped up the ball, and the next thing, he has an RBI. That was a big play of the game, especially when they closed the game to one run [6-5 heading into the ninth]. The difference was Altuve’s heads-up baserunning. It was very daring. You rarely see that.”

Altuve’s sprint speed from third to home on the play was 30.4 feet per second, according to Statcast, which means he was flying. A sprint speed of 30 feet per second is considered elite (27 is the MLB average).

“Elvis tried to get rid of it as quickly as he could,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It didn’t look like there was a pause to me. Altuve just made a play you don’t see very often, and it paid off for him.”

Only two games into the season, the Astros have scored 17 runs while playing with passion and having fun again, as witnessed by Altuve’s mad dash home and subsequent grins. Altuve appears to be a long way from where he was last season, when he had his worst year at the plate and seemed miserable at times.

“I feel really good right now,” he said.

Behind Altuve, left fielder Michael Brantley went 3-for-5 with three doubles and is 6-for-9 through two games, and third baseman Alex Bregman homered for the second game in a row. The top three hitters in Houston’s lineup were 8-for-12 and scored all nine runs on Friday.

“Altuve is obviously hot, and the guy behind him is even hotter,” Melvin said. “I don’t know that [Diekman] made too many bad pitches. But the way Altuve and Brantley are swinging the bat right now, it’s almost like you have to be perfect.”

Even veteran first baseman Yuli Gurriel is playing better than he did at any point last year. Coming off a miserable 2020, Gurriel had three hits, including a homer, and reached base five times. Gurriel didn’t have one three-hit game last year.

“I felt bad about my performance last year and not being able to help the team out, but it felt really good to have that tonight,” he said.