LAST NIGHT’S ASTROS VICTORY, the team’s 150th, generated little hoopla, especially by comparison to its 149th, a few days back, when the team clinched the American League West. It was what might be termed a workmanlike outing, one in which the ‘Stros offense was steady but not stellar, its pitching dominant but not dazzling. And the win did nothing to help Houston close the gap with Cleveland in the race for the American League’s top record, as the Indians also won, defeating the Angels in Anaheim. In the long run, though, Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox might well be an important one anyway, more important even than Sunday’s, as it seemed to signal the arrival of a newly poised and confident Astros team, one that pursues its victories patiently, if ruthlessly.
Still, it wouldn’t be the Astros if there wasn’t at least one moment of drama, and this one came courtesy George Springer, naturally, during an eighth-inning home plate slide that had the whole stadium confused, at least momentarily. After Jose Altuve was thrown out at first on a soft ground ball to the infield, Springer (who turned 28 that day) bolted for home, diving into the plate headfirst, his arms outstretched to reach the far corner. There was no question that he’d beat the tag of catcher Kevan Smith, but had Springer ever touched the plate? The umpire didn’t think so and called him out after Smith applied a tag after the fact. The Minute Maid crowd felt otherwise, of course, but even more so after slow-mo video of the slide on the big screen appeared to confirm that Springer’s fingertips had indeed grazed the plate. As “Safe! Safe! Safe!” chants boomed throughout the building, the call was sent for review to New York, where it was indeed overruled, to the jubilation of Springer and fans alike. For his part, manager A.J. Hinch seemed more relieved than anything, as Springer’s slide had contained all the earmarks of an injury in the making. All’s well that ends well, however, and on this day things ended well for the ‘Stros--for the fifth consecutive game.
IT’S NOT THAT WE couldn’t live without knowing that Josh Reddick’s favorite junk food is Starburst Jelly Beans, or that Alex Bregman prefers Beyonce over Taylor Swift, or that Dallas Keuchel believes Lance McCullers Jr. and Luke Gregerson have the best hair on the team (Gregerson because "he mixes it up. He goes showhawk, the slick look, he’s versatile.”) Still, we await the arrival of each month’s Gameday, the Astros official publication, with bated breath anyway, if only so we might disseminate the magazine’s findings more widely. (It is currently not available by subscription or online, and sold only at Minute Maid Park.)
Much of what we learned this month wasn’t terribly surprising, to be honest, (e.g., Brad Peacock likes hunting and fishing, and caught some “big muskie” with his teammates in a Michigan lake during a road trip to Detroit earlier this season). But there are wonderful tidbits here and there, including the news that Peacock’s dad still whistles from right field to get his son’s attention on the mound, just as he did when Brad was a kid.
Meanwhile, the issue also includes a nice feature by Alyson Footer on Marwin Gonzalez, raising the interesting question of how it is that a man who’s played so many positions well (everything but pitcher and catcher this season), a man whose bat is among the most feared in the MLB, can still seem like such a mystery to many fans. Part of the answer may lie in Gonzalez being a “man without a position,” as Footer puts it, but it’s probably also due to the zen-like calm he evinces most days (even in the face of strike zone injustice). Plus, Gonzalez’s rise has been a slow and stealthy one. Although first signed to the Astros in 2011, he didn’t garner much playing time or public attention until last year, and certainly nothing like what he’s received this season, a majestic one in which the 28-year-old has thus far batted .293, stroked 22 homers and batted in 82 runs. But perhaps Gonzalez’s greatest achievement has come in installing himself as “part of the core” of the Astros, as A.J. Hinch put it, and all without ever having had a position on the field to call his own.