Astros Flash Leather While Pounding White Sox
Astros deliver plenty of web gems
HOUSTON – The White Sox appeared primed to retake the lead Friday afternoon when Yasmani Grandal lined a shot to right field. Kyle Tucker sprinted about 20 feet to his right and secured the leaping grab in right-center field, inciting a thunderous roar from the sellout crowd at Minute Maid Park.
Astros reliever Ryne Stanek pumped his fist, screamed “Let’s go” and marched off the mound.
Until Tucker’s heroics in the top of the seventh inning, momentum in Game 2 of the American League Division Series appeared close to turning back toward the American League Central champions. The Astros had already secured several of late Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton’s blue stars for defensive excellence. Tucker’s web gem may have been the most important if not the most impressive in the 9-4 victory.
Tucker, who also made a leaping catch near the right field wall to rob a potential home run in the sixth inning of Game 1, got his teammates back on attack.
The Astros exploded for a five-run rally in which the White Sox’s defense was exposed in the bottom of the seventh.
Tucker goes “all out” for Astros
“I just tried to go all out for it,” Tucker said. “Our pitchers are out there working real hard. Any time we can make a catch or make a play to make it a little easier for them, it definitely helps out the team as a whole.
“To finish the inning with that big out, I think the momentum changed and everyone was real excited.”
The excitement continued deep into the bottom of the seventh.
Jose Altuve led off with a single to center. One out later, Alex Bregman singled to center. Yordan Alvarez then pushed an RBI single up the middle to give the Astros the lead for good.
Carlos Correa followed with a line drive to right field, where Leury Garcia gave himself no chance with a poor first step. Correa’s rocket went over Garcia’s head for a two-run double. Tucker followed with a two-run home run the other way to cap the five-run rally.
The offensive display was definitely impressive, but the Astros’ defensive gems cannot be ignored.
“I think people don’t always put the value that they might need to for the defensive side of things,” Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel said. “I think in the playoffs, especially, pitching and defense is what wins you games. And you need to have a good defense if you want to be able to advance in the playoffs.”
The Astros’ offense has definitely knocked the White Sox around while taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Division Series. The AL West champs may have an even greater advantage in terms of defense, though.
Several web gems to pick from
The Astros’ defense was so impressive, you’d be hard pressed to decide which of the gems was the best. The White Sox had the bases loaded in the first inning with one out when Eloy Jimenez ripped a hard grounder to second.
Altuve ranged toward the bag, fielded the ball cleanly and threw to Correa for the fielder’s choice. A run scored on the play, but Altuve at least secured an out. Framber Valdez then struck out Yoan Moncada to end the inning.
“Defense wins championships, and (Altuve) showed up today,” Correa said. “Nasty plays. I think the play in the first inning is the one that might go unnoticed through a nine-inning game.
“If that ball would have gone through, the game would have been totally different. That play was huge.”
Altuve added a sensational diving catch in the sixth inning to rob Andrew Vaughn of a hit. Correa actually started the game with a brilliant play to deny the speedy Tim Anderson of a leadoff hit.
That grounder might have gotten past other shortstops. Correa made it look somewhat routine for Anderson, who wasn’t surprised he was thrown out at first by a man throwing across his body while the momentum was taking him away from the target.
“I knew I had to get down the line and try to beat it out,” Anderson said. “Nothing is given at this moment. They’re not going to give me anything. I have to earn it, and I understand that.”
That’s the standard the Astros’ defense has set. They arrived in West Palm, Fla., in February with one goal in mind.
“We take a lot of pride in that,” Correa says of the defense. “From the moment we showed up in spring training we said, ‘Let’s try to be the No. 1 defensive team in the big leagues. You can see every single guy taking pride in batting practice.”
Astros confidence shows
Even after five years together, Gurriel says he’s often impressed by a gem. Gurriel was a star third baseman in Cuba. He was admittedly uncomfortable when he moved over to first base when he debuted with the Astros in 2017.
“But I think I’ve gotten a lot better and feel a lot more comfortable playing at first,” said Gurriel, who pulled off an unassisted double play to end the fourth. “My teammates have always been great on the infield. I think we really have the best infield in the big leagues.”
Gurriel was 1-for-4 with two RBIs to become the all-time leader in postseason hits and RBIs by a native of Cuba. Afterward, though, he spoke more about his defense.
There were web gems all over the field, after all. Tucker’s gave the Astros the momentum for good while pushing them within a victory of a return to the American League Championship Series.
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