A day before Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, Astros Manager Dusty Baker asked Astros fans to lean on a higher power in hopes of ending Jose Altuve’s slump.
“I just urge the people, the fans here, to put him in their prayers and elevate him to the level that he’s used to being at,” Baker said when asked about Altuve, his struggling second baseman.
Perhaps some fans followed Baker’s directive, as Altuve poked a double to right off Gerrit Cole, the Yankees’ ace, in a 5-0 Astros win on Saturday. The victory gave Houston a 3-0 lead in the A.L.C.S. and put New York on the brink of elimination with Game 4 scheduled for Sunday night at Yankee Stadium.
It gave Altuve one hit — total — in six games this postseason.
The hit snapped an 0-for-25 stretch, which was the longest hitless streak by a batter to begin a postseason. Known for his production in Octobers past — Altuve’s 23 postseason home runs are second on the career list — he was silent against the Seattle Mariners in a division series and has struggled against the Yankees as well.
Altuve’s only offensive contributions before Saturday’s double had been a pair of walks and one run scored — he has struck out 10 times. It has been especially jarring after Altuve closed the regular season by hitting .444 over his last 14 games.
“It feels good,” Altuve said of his double. “I can refresh my mind.”
Added Baker: “When you get a hit when you’re 0-for-something, any knock is great.”
The struggles are not limited to Altuve. Yordan Alvarez, Houston’s designated hitter, hit two lead-changing home runs in the division series round, including a three-run walk-off in Game 1, but he is 1 for 10 with six strikeouts against the Yankees. Right fielder Kyle Tucker, who slugged 30 home runs during the regular season, is also 1 for 10 against the Yankees.
And yet, the mighty Astros keep winning.
On Saturday, it was Houston’s No. 9 hitter, Chas McCormick, who put the Astros on the board first with a two-run homer off Cole. McCormick, who hit .245 this season, also homered in Game 1 of the A.L.C.S.
“It just talks about how good we are. It’s talks about our team. We’re a complete team and we’re team oriented,” the outfielder said when asked about winning without major contributions from some household names. “When the bottom of the order gets going, we’re a really hard team to beat.”
Excellent starting pitching — and star third baseman Alex Bregman’s three-run homer in Game 2 — has also helped Houston overcome some of its best hitters’ offensive woes. Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier have allowed a combined one earned run against the Yankees, whose own lineup is flailing from top to bottom.
The Yankees have struck out 41 times through three A.L.C.S. games, and they had only three hits in Game 3. Two of those hits were singles in the ninth inning, when the club was already down by five runs.
“That’s why we’re such a special team, because we have so many good pitchers on the staff,” McCormick said. “It’s so much fun to play behind them. They pound the zone and they’re nasty. I’m just glad I’m not facing our arms.”
While some of the Astros’ top offensive threats may not be on their A-games right now, every other aspect of the roster seems to be clicking with Houston one win away from reaching its second consecutive World Series.
As long as the team keeps winning, Altuve and company won’t fret about their personal stats.
“That tells you a lot about the team we have,” Altuve said of Houston’s ability to win despite some poor individual performances. He then rattled off a list of his teammates’ accomplishments this series. “It seems like a every night’s a different guy, and it tells you how good this lineup can be sometimes.”