'Altuve did it again' with walk-off HR vs. Yanks

July 12th, 2021

HOUSTON -- There was no way Astros second baseman was escaping the field at Minute Maid Park on Sunday afternoon without having his jersey ripped off by his teammates.

Not after Altuve and the Astros had to refute speculation for the past 20 months that the reason Altuve refused to have his jersey removed in the celebration following his walk-off homer against the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2019 American League Championship Series because he was wearing a buzzer.

It was an unsubstantiated but juicy storyline that carried into this weekend for the Yankees' first trip to Houston since Altuve ended their 2019 season. Yankees slugger Aaron Judge even trolled Altuve by tugging at his jersey while rounding the bases following his homer Saturday night.

But it was the Astros who got the last laugh on Sunday when Altuve hit a dramatic three-run, walk-off homer to complete a stunning six-run rally in the ninth inning for an 8-7 win to send Houston into the All-Star break with a world of good vibes.

"Hey man, that was the most wonderful thing I've seen in years," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "I'm just lost for words. The guys kept battling and kept battling. That's unbelievable to win that game the way we did."

Down 7-2 heading to the ninth, the Astros posted their first win when trailing by five or more runs in the ninth inning since July 25, 1980 (and the first ended on a walk-off hit since July 24, 1978).

When Altuve rounded third and headed for home, he became lost in a sea of his teammates -- only to emerge without a shirt and a huge smile on his face. Altuve said after the 2019 walk-off to eliminate the Yankees that his wife didn't want to see him shirtless on the field. That wasn't an option this time.

"It was 100 percent coming off after that home run," said rookie outfielder Chas McMcCormick, who keyed the rally with a two-run double. "It felt good, though. I'm just happy for Jose Altuve and he deserves all that. He got a little emotional after the game, and we all did. It was something special today."

The emotions from Altuve were taken to another level when he was informed minutes after the game ended that his father had been taken to a Houston hospital. There was no word on the seriousness of his condition, but before he got the news, Altuve spoke about his belief in his team.

"Everybody thought we were going to lose this game, except for us," he told reporter Julia Morales of AT&T SportsNet. "We kept grinding and kept battling every time and we made it happen."

Perhaps the most improbable thing about the ninth-inning rally is how lifeless the Astros had looked offensively all weekend against the Yankees. They were shut out on Friday and Saturday and had scored just two runs heading to the ninth inning Sunday. The Astros were staring a four-game losing streak heading into an All-Star break in which none of their four elected players, including Altuve, chose to play in Tuesday's All-Star Game.

The Astros (55-36), who overcame a club-record 14 walks, lead the American League West by 3 1/2 games over the A's at the break.

"We were kind of down," catcher Martín Maldonado said. "We got a couple of men on base and we believed in each other. We know how good of a team we are and are really, really happy how much our team has accomplished this first half. Like I said, we come in here expecting not to lose. We did whatever we could just to win this game. It wasn't beautiful, but we ended up winning."

Altuve's dramatic homer -- his 20th of the season -- only added to his Astros legacy, which includes a Most Valuable Player Award, seven selections to the All-Star Game and that series-clincher over the Yanks in 2019. Those who have played with him admire him as much as any player they've met, and they had no doubt he was going to come through again in the clutch.

After all, it was Altuve' three-run, go-ahead homer in the eighth inning on May 6 -- also off Chad Green -- at Yankee Stadium that avoided a sweep and sparked the Astros to a 40-22 surge into the All-Star break. Maldonado, who pulled down his jersey before touching home following his second-inning homer Sunday in response to Judge, said it was the best game of the regular season to date.

"I knew we had already lost three and it wasn't going to be fun going to the break losing a fourth game," he said. "It was pretty amazing how Altuve did it again. He's a guy with a big heart, the face of this team. … I would say Altuve, the guy's done it for many years. Seeing him out there and when he got to the plate, we know something big is going to happen."