HOUSTON -- If this is the swan song for Yuli Gurriel with the only organization he’s ever known, the seasoned Astros veteran is making the most of it.
Houston’s 38-year-old first baseman went 2-for-3 with a pair of hard-hit singles in the club’s 3-2 win over the Yankees in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday at Minute Maid Park. He’s now 9-for-22 in these playoffs, bringing his slash line to .409/.409/.682 (1.091 OPS) through Houston’s first five games, all victories.
None of Gurriel’s knocks had an impact on Thursday’s outcome, as the Astros again rode the long ball to their win, this time via a three-run blast by Alex Bregman. But Gurriel’s production underscored a valiant resurgence to follow up a disappointing regular season, especially with free agency looming once this playoff run ends.
“It's inevitable to think about that, obviously, even right now during the postseason,” Gurriel said through an interpreter. “But hopefully, we can finish strong and hopefully, it's not the last one.”
Gurriel, who won the AL batting title in 2021 with a .319 batting average, experienced the third-largest dip in that category among 167 qualified hitters in ‘22. He also saw a 199-point dip in his OPS, from .846 to .647, with an overall slash line of .242/.288/.360, way below his career mark of .284/.328/.448 (.776 OPS).
Even if this is it for Gurriel in Houston, for a player who didn’t debut until he was 32 years old -- yes, 32, after a defection from Cuba -- it’s been a remarkable run for one of the members of the core four infield that was a part of the 2017 World Series title, with Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, who departed last offseason via free agency.
“If he was here when he was younger, he might be in that conversation for being a Hall of Famer,” Bregman said. “He's had an unbelievable career. Being able to learn from him, being able to be around him, has been amazing. He is the definition of a baseball player.”
Despite plenty of postseason heroics, Gurriel has remained somewhat overlooked despite his role in shaping these great Astros teams. He’s always been solid, yet overshadowed by the others’ star power. His performance so far in October is a reminder of just what an anchor he’s been.
“He's had so many big moments for us in the postseason,” Bregman said. “We have all the confidence in the world in him. He should have a lot of confidence in himself too, and I know he does because he knows what kind of career and what kind of player he is and he's had and to see him come through for us these first [five] games has been awesome. I know he expects that out of himself. We expect it from him too. We know he's an elite hitter.”
If Houston goes in another direction to address first base this offseason, there’s still a good chance Gurriel lands somewhere, even if in a more diminished role. Despite the dropoff in his traditional batting stats, he still makes among the most consistent contact in the game, with a 12.5 percent strikeout rate that ranked 13th best among all qualified hitters, and a swing-and-miss rate that ranked in the 96th percentile, per Statcast.
He also offers instrumental veteran leadership, especially among Latin American players.
“That happens, an up-and-down regular season,” Altuve said. “But he’s [showing] that he can be the player that he is. He’s showing us what he’s capable of doing.”