SAN DIEGO — Jose Altuve, one of the game’s greatest players, an All-Star and former MVP, stood alone on the infield dirt Tuesday night, staring vacantly to the outfield in utter disbelief.
Here he is, melting down for all of the world to see in the American League Championship Series.
The Houston Astros are one defeat away from going home for the winter, losing again to the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-2, and Altuve’s arm is largely responsible for two of the defeats.
In a matter of 24 hours, he has made three throwing errors, leading to five runs, with the Rays now leading the best-of-seven series, 3-0.
There has been only one team in baseball history to recover from a 3-0 deficit , but the 2020 Astros are not the 2004 Boston Red Sox.
This series is over.
And Altuve will have an awfully long winter.
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The Astros were in control of this game after Altuve’s homer in the first inning, but along came the sixth, and the error that will haunt him until spring training, maybe longer.
Randy Arozarena led off the sixth inning with a single, and the Astros went into their normal shift for left-handed hitter Brandon Lowe. It looked like it worked to perfection. Lowe hit a routine ground ball to Altuve that was a tailor-made double play.
Altuve fielded it cleanly, flipped it towards shortstop Carlos Correa, only for the throw to skip two feet in front of Correa, and into left field. Two out and nobody on became two on and no outs.
Astros manager Dusty Baker went to the mound to remove shaken Jose Urquidy, who had been pitching a gem, and the entire infield went to the mound – except for one man.
Altuve stood alone, unable to watch. His teammates came over during reliever Enoli Paredes’ warmup pitches, trying to console him.
It was of no use.
The Rays, smelling blood, took full advantage, and by the time the inning ended, had scored five runs, breaking the game open, and the series.
Altuve had a chance to redeem himself in the ninth, representing the tying run with two on and one out, only to strike out swinging against Diego Castillo.
Jose Altuve reacts after making an error in the sixth. (Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports)
Even before the game, Baker feared that Altuve was in his own head.
“You’re just hoping he isn't getting the yips,’’ Baker said “Invariably, they come in bunches. Everything comes in bunches – errors, hits, homers, everything. I just told him to flush it."
If the loss wasn’t painful enough for the Astros, they had to watch the Rays put on another defensive showcase of their own.
The highlights began in the first inning when Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier robbed Alex Bregman at the wall.
In the t inning, the Astros had two runners on, two outs, when Carlos Correa lined a ball to right-center field. Kiermaier sprinted 52 feet, dove, and with his glove stretched out in front of him, caught the ball as he hit the ground, saving at least a run – if not two.
Left fielder Randy Arozarena, shortstop Wily Adames, Joey Wendle, Hunter Renfroe and pitcher John Curtiss all got in into the act before the night was over.
“We work on it every day,'' Adames said. "We’re just happy that we can help the pitcher on the mound. We work on it. And when you work on it in practice, it is going to show up in the game.’’
Now, just one victory away from their second trip to the World Series in franchise history, it's showing up for everyone else to see.
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