CLEVELAND -- There was hardly anything Jose Altuve couldn't do on Saturday. The reigning American League Most Valuable Player was in MVP form against the Indians, a force in all facets of the game while showing his fiery leadership.Altuve went 4-for-4 at the plate -- falling a double short of
CLEVELAND -- There was hardly anything Jose Altuve couldn't do on Saturday. The reigning American League Most Valuable Player was in MVP form against the Indians, a force in all facets of the game while showing his fiery leadership.
Altuve went 4-for-4 at the plate -- falling a double short of the cycle -- stole a season-high two bases and scored three runs. But his fantastic effort wasn't enough for the Astros, who couldn't dig themselves out of an early hole and fell, 8-6, at Progressive Field.
Altuve was left in the on-deck circle when the game ended.
"We wanted to get him to the plate for a lot of reasons, but mostly because he was going to be an important part of that inning if we were going to come back," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "He's swinging the bat very well. Tonight he was over everything. We certainly wanted him to come up."
Altuve was hot from the start, as he singled and stole his first base in the opening frame.
Then he showed his impact beyond the box score when he confronted young Astros starter Lance McCullers at the end of the second inning.
McCullers started the second inning by giving up a double to Edwin Encarnacion and walking Yonder Alonso. On an 0-2 count to the next hitter, Melky Cabrera, McCullers got a much-needed ground ball. But first baseman Yuli Gurriel could not come up with it and a run scored, with everyone ending up safe on the error. The right-hander turned away from the play and yelled.
As the two players came off the field following a solid defensive play from Altuve to end the inning, Altuve expressed his dissatisfaction to McCullers.
"In the second inning, I was real immature, and I let emotion get the best of me," McCullers said. "I showed my frustration. Altuve was letting me know that we're beyond that. I'm not 21 anymore. I've been around enough -- this is my fourth season with this team."
Altuve didn't have much time to think about the incident, however, as he was due up fourth in the top of the third. After Alex Bregman was hit by a pitch with two outs, Altuve crushed a hanging 2-1 curveball from Carlos Carrasco an estimated 388 feet over the left-field fence to give the Astros their first lead of the game.
"When you've got Carrasco on the mound, he throws every pitch possible," Altuve said. "You need to look for something in the sun rather than a certain pitch. I think I got lucky. I hit the ball up in the air, and I didn't know it was gone. I guess it was a little hot today, and the ball carries a little more."
The offense only continued for Altuve. He had a single, stolen base and scored a run in the fifth to bring Houston within two runs, then tripled to center and scored in the seventh inning.
"He's the MVP of the league, so he's had a lot of good games," Hinch said. "That's a very complete game from him, but we've come to expect that."
Despite Altuve's production, the offense could not make up for McCullers' tough outing. The right-hander was hit hard for seven runs and a career-high five extra-base hits and three homers and exited after 4 1/3 innings following Encarnacion's home run.
The outing was even more disappointing for McCullers considering he threw seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball against the Indians less than a week ago. On Saturday, his fastball command was missing, which made his potent curve far less effective.
"I just got beat," McCullers said. "There's nothing to really say about it. You've got to take your good outings and roll with them. You have to wear the bad ones. Tonight, I just didn't make good pitches in big spots, and every time I made a mistake, they took advantage of it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Kemp hits first homer: At 5-foot-6, Tony Kemp is not known for his power, but he came through in a big way in the sixth inning. Kemp came to bat with one on and two outs against Carrasco, who was at 106 pitches. After taking a first-pitch ball, he launched a fastball 369 feet to right field. It was his first homer of the year and his first in 88 plate appearances since his first career homer on Sept. 25, 2016.
"He's got power," Hinch said. "He hits the ball on the barrel a lot, especially to the pull side. He's hit a couple balls over some outfielders heads in his short time [with the team]. Not so much this year, but in the previous times we've seen. He's so compact and hits the ball on the barrel. He's balanced when he hits; it didn't surprise me at all."
Saturday's performance marked Altuve's third four-hit game of the season in 53 games. In his MVP season in 2017, he had four four-hit efforts in 153 games. Altuve also just missed the cycle against the A's on April 28, when he went 4-for-5 with a home run, double and two singles.
HE SAID IT
"I know how hard they work. I know how hard they try. I feel really bad about letting emotion get the best of me. I spoke to them, and I apologized. It won't happen again. He's just letting me know that if I'm going to pitch with emotion like I do, which is great and part of what makes me good, channel that for the right things." -- McCullers
For a moment, it looked like Bregman legged out an infield single on a slow bouncer to shortstop Francisco Lindor. But after the initial safe ruling, Indians manager Terry Francona challenged the call, and it was overturned. That runner proved to be crucial, as Altuve followed with a triple that would have scored Bregman.
"I thought it was a coin flip," Hinch said. "I didn't see it up close, other than the big board. We thought it was going to go either way, maybe not enough to overturn, but they apparently saw enough."
Gerrit Cole faces former college teammate Trevor Bauer in the finale of the four-game series Sunday between the Astros and Indians at 12:10 p.m. CT at Progressive Field. Cole struck out eight batters over six innings in his last start, marking the ninth time in 10 starts this season he had more punchouts than innings. Cole has yet to give up more than three runs in any start, while going at least six innings in all but one of them.
Ben Weinrib is a contributor to MLB.com.