One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four.
The entire Houston Astros’ lineup is capable. Their 2017 offense was one of the most productive this sport has seen. Their No. 8 hitter Sunday batted in more runs than any of his teammates this season.
But their four best hitters are their top four hitters: George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. And, from innings four through seven in Sunday’s frenzied fifth game of the World Series, those men made one out, building higher and higher off of one another’s efforts.
“They’re pretty awesome,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “We like to talk about tandem at-bats. And when those guys get going, we’re relentless.”
In that superlative stretch, the foursome batted 12 times and reached base 11 times. They produced three walks, three singles, two double and three homers. Their efforts allowed the Astros to mount a four-run comeback, one they ultimately squandered. Of course, it was one of those four, Bregman, who delivered the winning hit in Houston’s 13-12 victory over the Dodgers, pouncing on a first-pitch cutter from Kenley Jansen.
“I want to say I’d rather have nobody else up there,” Hinch said. “But then I’d be disrespecting Altuve, Correa, Springer, [Yuli] Gurriel, guys that are really good hitters. He’s one of many that seem to feed off of each other.”
Indeed, it Springer who set it up by patiently drawing a walk. Both plate appearances bore out themes that lasted throughout the game: patience and aggressiveness, juxtaposed. The top four waited out some Dodgers pitchers, and waited no time at all on others. There was little in between.
It took time to get to this point, but three of the four were supposed to do this. This was the exact purpose of the unsightly stretch the city of Houston endured for so long, the tank the Astros executed. Be bad, collect high picks, be good eventually. Being bad is good.
Springer was the 11th overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft, Correa, the first choice in 2012, Bregman the second selection in 2015. Altuve is the great outlier, the $15,000 signee, the future most valuable player.
They began when Springer walked to begin the fourth, patiently waiting out Clayton Kershaw. Next was Bregman’s flyout, the only blip among the Astros temporary transendence. And then it went, the parade of success: an Altuve single, a Correa double, another Springer walk, a Bregman walk, an Altuve game-tying homer, and a Correa single before a sixth-inning break.
After Springer’s mental mistake allowed the Dodgers a run in the top of the seventh, he started the bottom with a first-pitch homer, seizing on a clearly fatigued Brandon Morrow.
So did Bregman, barreling a first-pitch single into center. So did Altuve, roping a second-pitch double into left. And so did Correa, sort of. He hacked at a high fastball and sent it soaring over Minute Maid Park’s outrageous left-field wall. It was high, it was short, but it was gone.
Mid-game, they provide endless encouragement. Afterward, they shower each other in compliments. Correa called Altuve the best player alive and Bregman the most confident player on the team. Altuve said he was absolutely certain Bregman would provide the winning hit. Bregman praised the unknown piece of Springer’s psyche that enabled him to bounce back from failure with such ease.
The 22 homers hit in this series surpassed the all-time record in any World Series, besting the Angels’ 2002 win over San Francisco. Those teams had 17 through five games.
The Astros, themselves, have 13. Their top four men have hit nine, just as many as all of the Dodgers.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter