José Altuve plays ALCS hero as Astros, Yankees stage theatrical final inning

HOUSTON — When a game ends like that, and in doing so ends a series like that, it’s hard to feel like there’s anything to add by writing about it. There’s no better testament to the Houston Astros’ dramatic success than the fact that they’ll play the Washington Nationals at home on Tuesday night to open the World Series. And there’s no sharp turn of phrase nor incisive analysis that will render the experience any more powerful than simply saying, “How great was that?” to anyone who saw it live and, “Here, go watch it for yourself,” to anyone who did not.

The real problem with baseball games getting longer — and, in October, later — is that the best parts are often at the end. Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, which the Astros won 6-4 on Saturday night, was boring until it wasn’t. A rainout in New York erased the travel day and both teams decided to start relievers, commit to half a dozen pitching changes each, and keep their aces in their back pockets in case this thing went seven. The Astros took an early lead, the Yankees left a lot of guys on base, and for three hours and fifty minutes it looked like we’d be writing about how the decisive game between two 100-plus-win powerhouses came down to bullpen management and dramatic defense. You know, nerd stuff. But then the jocks did their thing and there wasn’t much left to analyze.

In the top of the ninth inning, DJ LeMahieu single-handedly staved off impending elimination with a two-run shot to tie the game at 4. Just like that the Yankees were back from the brink — threatening to make the night a whole lot longer with extra innings, and extending the series as long as possible with a winner-take-all Game 7.

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The Astros’ Josh Reddick had just been moved from right field, where the ball went over the fence, to left field at the start of the frame. “I didn’t really look around very much,” he said. “I put my hands on top of my head as soon as I saw it bounce around. One of those things where your heart hits the floor.”

Roberto Osuna recorded two more outs and the Astros went back to the dugout.

“The most important thing was that the game was tied. We weren’t down a run, we weren’t down two or three. It’s tied,” said George Springer, who had been inches away from grabbing the home run ball out of the clutches of the bleachers and the box score.

“We knew that we still had outs to play with, the game wasn’t over,” said Michael Brantley, who was responsible for the highest-octane moment of the night prior to the ninth, making an amazing diving catch in the outfield and doubling off Aaron Judge to stymie a budding Yankees’ rally in the 7th.

“We knew when we woke up this morning that we were going to be watching football tomorrow so someone was going to get the job done,” star Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman got the first two Astros out. At some point between Martin Maldonado’s strikeout and Springer’s walk, José Altuve slipped back into the video room to watch some film and study the pitches. It worked.

He didn’t swing at the first pitch, or the second.

“I was sitting on the stairs and I looked at Mike [Brantley] after the 2-0 pitch and I said, ‘José’s gonna win this for us,’” Reddick said.

“I looked at Wade [Miley], I think 2-0 and I was like, ‘Man, if he throws anything down and in, it’s going out,’” Gerrit Cole said. “And Wade is like, ‘It’s going out to right.’ And I’m like, ‘It’s not going out to right! It’s going out to left.’”

Two pitches later, Altuve — the longest-tenured Astro and the one who received the heartiest boos while the series was in New York — hit a two-run bomb to left-center to break the tie and send his team to its second World Series in three years. It was just like the 43,357 faithful who stayed for a four-hour game, and then the ensuing triumphant celebration, would have scripted it if it could.

“Gosh, I guess it was backdoor slider and he still pulled it out to left so I was only right on like two-thirds of it,” Cole said.

It was just the fifth postseason walk-off home run to secure a pennant. The ones that came before are enshrined in the annals of baseball history — you’d know the clips if you saw them, but probably not the columns that ran the morning after.

Still, we act like there’s something to be gleaned from describing the confetti or the way Altuve’s daughter, wearing her gold high-top sneakers, pulls his brand new World Series hat off his head, puts it back on, and pinches his cheeks. It makes it feel real, I suppose. Elongated, even, so that it can loom as large in resonance as it will eventually in legacy.

Or maybe just the opposite. Hitting a home run is so difficult and impressive. That it ever happens at all is worth marveling at. You watch too many highlights, and you run the risk of forgetting that. Don’t cut to the chase just because now that you know how it ends it can never been as suspenseful, or as magical, again. Maybe the value in writing about an indelible moment like Altuve’s instantly iconic ALCS-winning home run is making it seem small and precarious in a world where it already exists and dominates the narrative. Forcing ourselves to see in retrospect that it never was scripted and that the headline for a four-hour game happened in an instant. Not because it’s a good story, but because José Altuve did something really special.

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