This Astros star 'is going to carry us'

Altuve returns to ALCS stage where a rematch vs. Chapman could await

October 15th, 2023

HOUSTON -- Once the final inning of ’s career has been played, whenever that might be, the video tributes will direct us back here to Minute Maid Park for an American League Championship Series -- the 2019 edition, to be exact, when his pennant-winning home run off the Yankees’ sent the greater Harris County area into ecstasy.

That night's blast soared high over the left-field wall, bounding back onto the playing field as Altuve rounded the bases. Chapman displayed something akin to a bemused smirk, beginning a slow trudge off the field as Altuve neared home plate, black streamers raining from the roof. No matter what happened from that day forth, Altuve would always be a part of October.

And so while Altuve took a few moments during batting practice on Saturday to view the “ring of fire” solar eclipse, oohing as he peered at the celestial spectacle through special glasses, history suggests that there will be no dulling the second baseman’s shine when the lights come on for Sunday’s Game 1 of the ALCS against the Rangers.

“The thought is always about winning,” Altuve said. “In the season, you have 162 [games] to make a lot of adjustments. Now, you have to win today and the next day. It’s almost like there’s no tomorrow, so I think the whole team focuses on winning, focuses on keeping advancing and getting to the World Series.”

It’s a mindset that seems to be working. Altuve, 33, is spread all over Major League Baseball’s career leaderboards, set to play in his 97th postseason game.

Including his home run in Game 1 of this year’s AL Division Series victory over the Twins, Altuve ranks second in homers (24), third in runs (80), fourth in hits (107), fourth in extra-base hits (42) and eighth in RBIs (50).

Three more runs scored and Altuve would equal Bernie Williams (83) for second all time; four RBIs would match Albert Pujols (54). Manny Ramirez (29) owns the all-time lead in homers, and that honor may belong to Altuve once all is said and done.

“He’s a baller,” said Astros teammate . “He’s a great ballplayer and an even better human being. He’s a great teammate. He’s got thick skin. He puts the work in and doesn’t let anything faze him. He just goes out there and plays his game.”

Yet statistics hardly measure Altuve’s heart-and-soul impact. When you survey his teammates, they aren’t stirred by his numerical achievements; Altuve’s focus has always been on piling up W’s, a statement that he made no fewer than five times during a brief turn at the interview room podium on Saturday.

“If you go to the clubhouse,” Altuve said in Spanish, “you’re going to hear Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker, Martín Maldonado, Justin Verlander saying: ‘OK, how can we win the next game? Let’s find a way to score more runs than they do.’

“It’s that mentality of winning, that we want to get to another World Series and take home that trophy again. That really keeps me, and the whole team, so good and consistent in these moments.”

Said Maldonado: “Altuve is the guy who is going to carry us. He’s got different ways to beat you; it could be a bunt, a homer or stealing a base. Having him on our team is really good.”

When a reporter suggested that Altuve and Rangers second baseman seem to have some similarities at the tops of their respective orders, Maldonado smothered the query like an errant slider in the dirt.

“You cannot compare him to Marcus Semien,” Maldonado said. “They’re two different hitters. Altuve is an MVP. I’d take Altuve all day.”

Even in the afterglow of a second World Series ring, this season hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride for Altuve, who was limited to 90 games by a fractured thumb he sustained during the World Baseball Classic and a strained left oblique in July.

After the latter injury, Altuve called his year “a nightmare,” though he’d return to manage a strong .311/.393/.522 slash line (151 OPS+) with 17 homers and 51 RBIs. That statement has softened now; October provides a fresh start for everyone.

It is an interesting sidebar that Chapman will be in the building again, now employed in the Rangers’ bullpen. Could history repeat itself?

“In the playoffs, anything can happen,” Altuve said. “It doesn’t matter if you win 150 [games] or 80 [games]; it’s just about winning now. There’s no tomorrow. We’ve just got to focus on winning. It doesn’t matter, numbers, stats -- anything but winning.”