Altuve's slam punctuates two-homer night

Slugger's solo shot was highest pitch he's hit out in Statcast era

July 31st, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- As dug into the plate in the sixth inning with the bases loaded, he was greeted with a familiar chant that often accompanies him away from home.

“You’re a cheater!” the crowd heckled. The stadium’s left side would yell those three words, then the right side would follow suit. Soon enough, Altuve had the home fans singing a different -- albeit still bitter -- tune. 

Altuve cleared the bases with a towering grand slam over the left-field fence, being showered with boos as he jogged around the bases. The slam was one of two home runs that Altuve hit in the Astros’ 9-6 win over the Giants on Friday at Oracle Park, the exclamation point on one of his best nights of the season.

“He’s a special player,” said bench coach Joe Espada, who was filling in as manager as Dusty Baker served a one-game suspension. “He lives for moments like those. There’s no one that we’d rather have at the plate than Jose Altuve.”

While Altuve’s grand slam helped bust the game open, it wasn’t his most impressive offensive feat of the night. That honor goes to his solo shot the inning prior, off a pitch from Kevin Gausman that was 3.73 feet off the ground, the highest pitch he’s homered against in the Statcast era. 

Altuve said that he didn't realize how elevated the pitch was until he began to swing. Instead of holding up, Altuve went through with the swing, sending Gausman’s changeup over the left-field fence.

"You usually never see a guy hit a pitch that’s taller than him out of the ballpark,” Gausman said. “I definitely thought it was a pop fly. You usually never see those go that far. He’s an incredible hitter and player. He’s one of those guys where it doesn’t matter where the pitch is. He can kind of create his body and make the barrel of the bat be where it needs to be.”

That solo shot wasn’t the only damage Altuve did against Gausman, who was chased after only 4 1/3 innings. Altuve led off the game with a single, setting the tone for a first inning in which Gausman allowed two runs and threw 43 pitches.

Gausman strung together shutdown innings in the second and third, giving the Giants some length and preventing a impromptu bullpen game, but was gone before he could get through five frames, the latest opposing starter to succumb to Houston’s hot offense.

Altuve’s grand slam gave the Astros a five-run lead and Houston looked poised to cruise to a win, but things got sticky in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Kyle Tucker, who entered play having played only one career inning at center field, dropped a routine fly ball off the bat of Darin Ruf, setting the stage for the Giants to score two runs.

San Francisco’s error-induced rally set the stage for the debut of recent trade acquisition Kendall Graveman. After retiring the only batter he faced in the seventh inning with runners on first and second, Graveman struck out the side in the eighth inning.

“The guys were excited for me,” Graveman said. “Also [got] a ground ball to Correa; he’s been asking me to roll him a ground ball so I got him one. He came to the dugout and thanked me as soon as he got in the dugout.”

Also getting in on the home run party was Aledmys Díaz, who provided insurance in the top of the ninth inning with a solo shot. Díaz hasn’t missed a beat since returning from the injured list, recording three consecutive multi-hit games and going 6-for-15 with five RBIs.

“He’s a very valuable piece to our team,” Espada said.

But on Friday, no Astro was more valuable than Altuve. Even in the most volatile of conditions, the All-Star displayed his penchant for rising -- literally and figuratively -- to the occasion.