Altuve and Gurriel have made the same exchange so many times since it has become routine. Or so it seemed.
Altuve short-hopped a throw to Gurriel from the shift in shallow right field with two outs in the first inning Monday, allowing Ji-Man Choi to reach on an error and put two runners on base. The Rays made the Astros pay dearly when Manuel Margot slugged a three-run homer two pitches later off starter Lance McCullers Jr., which was the difference in Tampa Bay’s 4-2 win over Houston in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park in San Diego.
That was one of two throwing errors by Altuve, who hadn’t made a throwing miscue previously this season. It’s the first time Altuve has made two errors in a playoff game and only the fifth time in his career he’s committed multiple errors.
“Very surprised,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “That's his first throwing error all year, and then he had two of them today. You're just hoping he isn't getting the yips. Invariably, they come in bunches. Everything comes in bunches -- errors, hits, homers, everything. I just told him to flush it. I mean, this guy's been awesome for us. He's got to flush it and move on, or else it multiplies. I'm sure he'll do that.”
The Astros, despite strong performances from starting pitchers Framber Valdez in Game 1 on Sunday and McCullers in Game 2 -- 11 strikeouts in seven innings -- trail the best-of-seven series, 2-0, heading into Tuesday night’s Game 3. After scoring 33 runs in six games in the AL Division Series, the Astros have three runs in two games in the ALCS.
In postseason history, teams that have won the first two games of any best-of-seven series have gone on to win that series 72 of 85 times (85%). However, no team has rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win a best-of-seven series since the 2004 Red Sox pulled off the only 0-3 comeback in MLB history in the 2004 ALCS. Going back to the ‘04 World Series, teams ahead 2-0 have finished the job 22 straight times.
“We haven’t lost the series,” said shortstop Carlos Correa, who hit his 16th career playoff homer in the sixth inning. “We have to stay positive. We have to move forward and play better baseball in order to win the series. The error already happened. Nothing that can be done about that. No need to go back to it. Now we look forward and we have to go back tomorrow and win that game.”
Margot’s blast in the first brought home the only runs McCullers allowed until Mike Zunino hit a two-out homer in the seventh, ending a streak in which McCullers had sent down 14 in a row, including nine by strikeout. Houston’s offense was held to the solo homer by Correa and a second run on a double-play grounder in the ninth off the bat of George Springer.
“We just got beat by misfortune today,” Baker said.
As Margot rounded first base and the ball disappeared over the center-field wall, Altuve sat in a crouch for about 20 seconds, likely in disbelief and frustration. The error was charged to Altuve, but the play is one Gurriel -- one of the best defensive first basemen in baseball -- makes routinely.
“I need to pick him up,” McCullers said. “When he made the error, I turned to him and gave him a, ‘No problem, all good.’ … He’s been the heartbeat of this team, the staple of this team for so many years. Just kind of sucks. I really wanted to pick him up there. I wish we were talking about something else. He’s a hell of a player, and I think he understands how much we support him. He needs to come back tomorrow and lead this team like he always has.”
Altuve got another chance in the shift in the third inning on a grounder off the bat of Brandon Lowe, and he short-hopped the throw to Gurriel again for a second error. Fortunately for the Astros, McCullers was able to pitch around the mistake and a subsequent single by Randy Arozarena to keep the score at 3-0. Baker gave Altuve a quick hug when the second baseman came into the dugout after he made a throw to Gurriel for the final out in the third.
The Rays, meanwhile, scooped up everything the Astros hit on the ground and in the air, including a laser off the bat of Alex Bregman with the bases loaded that Kevin Kiermaier ran down in right-center field for the final out. Houston has outhit Tampa Bay by nine (19-10) in two games and has seen Valdez and McCullers combine to allow three earned runs in 13 innings.
“There's not a whole bunch to say,” Baker said. “They got away two days in a row, but they can't keep getting away.”
Now the Astros have their backs against the wall entering a Game 3 that the players are treating as a must-win.
“You guys know I’m here for wins,” McCullers said. “It’s disappointing, but we’re down, 2-0. The series is not over. We’ve still got some opportunities left to come out and play some good baseball. I think we can get things going. I don’t feel like this series is over. I don’t think the guys in the clubhouse feel this series is over. We’ve got to get one tomorrow.”