His day on the diamond almost done, Jose Altuve walked over to a clutch of Astros fans clustered behind the netting down the right field line at Minute Maid Park.
For five minutes, he autographed World Series programs, No. 27 jerseys and other items, many of them for kids. A young girl got a ball with Altuve’s signature and joyfully turned to her mother.
“I’m about to cry,” the mom said.
Altuve’s team liked what they saw from him earlier in the evening, too.
In a Fall Classic devoid of drama so far, the big-swinging leadoff man is among the few stars to deliver any huge hits.
Bouncing back from the first three-strikeout game of his postseason career, plus a prolonged slump in the AL Championship Series, Altuve homered and doubled as Houston beat the Atlanta Braves 7-2 Wednesday night, tying the matchup at 1-all.
But teammates Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and AL Championship Series MVP Yordan Alvarez have been mostly silent. Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley and NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario haven’t done much damage for the Braves, either.
“You can be 0 for 20, but what about if you get the big hit? So that’s what playoffs is about,” Altuve said. “I don’t care if I went 0 for 5 last night.”
As Astros manager Dusty Baker said: “My dad used to tell me it’s okay to get down, just don’t stay down. So he didn’t stay down.”
After a day off, they’ll play Game 3 Friday night at Truist Park when Luis Garcia is set to pitch for the Astros against Ian Anderson. Both of them threw well in the games their teams won to clinch these spots.
It will be the first World Series pairing of rookie starters since the 2006 opener.
That night, Anthony Reyes led St. Louis over Detroit and its newcomer, Justin Verlander. This season, Verlander was on Houston’s injured list while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
At 23, Anderson is already an October veteran. He’s made seven postseason starts in two years, going 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA.
“I’m excited to work with Ian for Game 3. He’s going to be ready to go. He gets to pitch at home. I mean, like I said, I can’t wait to get back home,” said Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who homered Wednesday night.
The Braves are 5-0 at home this year in the playoffs and are expecting a loud crowd.
“The atmosphere is awesome. Like I say, Braves country is real. It’s real,” manager Brian Snitker said. “That’s why I think it was so important to split here. I mean, realistically, you want to win two, but if you can split and get out of here and go home where we’ve been really good, that’s a very positive.”
Altuve helped the Astros earn their split. A postseason perennial, the All-Star second baseman pushed aside a 3-for-24 skid in the ALCS and a hitless opener against the Braves.
Altuve tied former Yankees star Bernie Williams for second on the career postseason home run list with 22, trailing only the 29 by Manny Ramirez.
To Baker, there was nothing surprising about Altuve’s performance. And he figures the other Astros infielders – Correa, Bregman and Yuli Gurriel – also will play key roles.
“They expect good things to happen and they expect to play well. They expect to do good. I found that out last year,” he said.
“We had some guys struggling and they said, well, wait till the playoffs, and we barely squeaked in,” he said. “They said, ‘Hey, man, we’re going to turn it on in the playoffs.’ I haven’t seen many people in this game who can kind of turn it on when they want to.”
Altuve has shown that. In 11 seasons, he’s averaged a home run every 35 at-bats in the regular season; in 75 postseason games, he’s homered once every 14 at-bats.
Baker recalled a slugger he managed in San Francisco, and a speedster who played across the Bay.
“Come to mind like Barry Bonds. He’s like, I’m going to take over this game today, and he takes it over. Rickey Henderson says, hey, man, I’m going to steal three or four bases, and I’m going to take this game over by myself,” Baker said.
“Like I said, you don’t find many players like that, where they have the ability or the mindset or the mind control to do it,” he said.