Jose Altuve is having a baaaad time. The former MVP won a Gold Glove as recently as 2015, but you’d never know it by the way he’s fielded his position in the American League Championship Series. One day after committing not one but two throwing errors, Altuve’s downward spiral continued with another deflating miscue in Tuesday night’s Game 3 loss to the Rays, a defeat that left Houston on the brink of elimination.
Altuve’s botched throw—already his fourth error of the postseason—on a potential double-play ball at second base provided the elusive sliver of hope Tampa Bay had been searching for all night. The ever-resourceful Rays quickly pounced, capitalizing on the costly misfire with a five-run sixth inning that squashed any lingering momentum the Astros may have built from Altuve’s earlier home run off starter Ryan Yarbrough. The six-time All-Star has swung a potent bat throughout the October slate (.314/.442/.657 with four homers and eight RBI), but his crippling case of the yips (earning him unfavorable comparisons to Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch) will be to blame if Houston falls short in its pursuit of a second straight AL pennant and its third in four years.
With the Astros mounting a last-ditch comeback off closer Diego Castillo, Altuve had a chance to be the hero in the ninth, stepping to the batter’s box with two men on and one out following walks to pinch-hitter Abraham Toro and leadoff man George Springer. But rather than digging the Astros out of their three-run hole, Altuve’s night of horrors continued with umpire Jeff Nelson quickly foiling the 30-year-old’s redemption plot on a controversial check-swing strike three.
Nelson didn’t have the cleanest vantage point from behind the dish and likely should have called on another ump, preferably one with an unobstructed view of home plate, for a second opinion. But unfortunately for Altuve, that life preserver never came. Michael Brantley followed with a harmless fly-out to center field, ending the Astros’ ninth-inning threat as the top-seeded Rays stretched their series lead to 3-0.
Could this be karma for the Astros, who have largely embraced their villain status in the wake of an explosive cheating scandal that tainted most of their past accomplishments including the team’s World Series triumph over the Dodgers in 2017? Some may view it in that light, though maybe it’s time we acknowledge the superior efforts of Tampa Bay, a legitimate pitching juggernaut and arguably the best-managed team in baseball.
Houston will look to extend its season with former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke getting the ball Wednesday night in San Diego. The Astros have defied the odds before—they’ve already made it this far despite posting a listless 29-31 regular-season record—but they’ll have their work cut out for them against Game 4 starter Tyler Glasnow, who hasn’t lost a decision since August 8. First pitch is scheduled for 8:40 PM ET.