Jose Altuve heard plenty of jeers from fans at Yankee Stadium during this week's three-game series, but they fell silent in the eighth inning of Thursday’s finale. On a full-count fastball well above the strike zone, Altuve smacked a go-ahead three-run homer to lift the Astros to a 7-4 win.
The home run came on Altuve’s 31st birthday, and it snapped his 3-for-32 skid in a big way. You might call it an icing-on-the-cake moment for Houston’s sparkplug second baseman.
“If you ask him, he’ll just say he’s happy that he was able to contribute to the team and we got the win,” Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. said. “But I know it meant a lot to us in the dugout to see him hit that homer.”
Thanks to the regionalized schedule of the fan-less 2020 season, this was Houston’s first trip to Yankee Stadium since news broke regarding the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal that dates back to the 2017 World Series-winning team. Only five players remain from that championship roster, but Altuve -- the American League MVP that season -- was among them. And the boos he heard all series might’ve been the loudest.
Well, until his homer.
“Boy, that was huge,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “It quieted the fans for a little while, anyway. I can’t tell you how happy everybody in the dugout was for Jose, because he’s one of the best guys that you’ll ever meet in this game.”
Entering the eighth, the Astros were two innings shy of being swept by the Yankees, just as they turned to their greatest strength: the bullpen. New York’s relief corps entered the day with a nine-inning scoreless streak, as well as league-best numbers in ERA (2.24), opponent batting average (.179) and WHIP (0.94).
Chad Green took over for Gerrit Cole -- making his first start against the Astros since inking his nine-year, $324 million deal prior to last season -- and promptly walked leadoff man Kyle Tucker. Aledmys Díaz continued his mini hot streak with a pinch-hit infield single (he’s 5-for-9 in his past three games), and Altuve did the rest two batters later.
Without harping on the raucous reception he received in New York, Altuve acknowledged that the fans’ heckling did not fall on deaf ears.
“I was trying to do my best to play the game,” he said. “You don’t like to get booed by anybody, but that’s part of the game. Like I said, I was just going out there and trying to do my best to help my team to win.”
Another player who helped the Astros get the win Thursday was Yordan Alvarez, the lone Astro to crack Cole. Alvarez blasted a pair of solo shots off the Yankees’ ace: slugging an inside slider to the right-field upper deck in the fourth, and squaring up a fastball over the center-field wall in the seventh.
McCullers Jr. played a part, too, fighting through six innings and fanning eight while allowing three runs on six hits (including a pair of homers) and four walks.
But the day belonged to Altuve, whose birthday homer marked the first of his career (while playing on his birthday for an eighth time). Most importantly, it helped the Astros halt the Yankees’ five-game win streak and prevented a four-game skid of their own to cap a two-city road trip.
New York fans may not soon forget the Astros’ scandal, or their World Series win, or even the 2017 MVP race that saw Altuve beat out Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge. But in most respects, Houston has had the last laugh, and that extended to Thursday’s outcome.
“We’re just super happy that on his birthday, he could have a great at-bat,” Alvarez said of Altuve. “And on top of that, we reminded him that he’s the MVP.”