Before Jose Altuve’s heroic swing sent the Astros to the World Series, left fielder Michael Brantley was thought to be the one who all but guaranteed the pennant for Houston. In the top of the seventh, the 32-year-old veteran made a ridiculous diving catch to stop an Aaron Hicks popup from plopping onto no man’s land. It was impressive on its own, with Brantley turning on the jets to get within the ball’s vicinity, and making the catch with an outstretched arm that was at the lowest possible point he could reach, but that was only half of this play’s beauty. Once the left fielder made the catch, he hopped right up and fired a laser to first to complete the double play. Aaron Judge, who was standing on first at the time of the at-bat, must have been in total shock when Brantley made the catch as the Yankee was practically at second base by the time it happened.
While there’s an argument to be made that Judge’s baserunning in this situation left a lot to be desired, the play itself still seemed like a strong indicator of which team was going to come out on top. Yet that indication was even stronger at the start of the seventh-inning stretch because another Astros outfielder had just made an incredible diving stop one inning earlier. With one out and runners on first and second, Brett Gardner hit a line drive to right field that was just out of Josh Reddick’s range for a comfortable catch. To prevent his team from digging themselves into a deeper hole in the inning, he sacrificed his face to make the catch.
Reddick told MLB.com that he did, in fact, eat “a little bit of dirt and grass” during that play. “But that’s fine,” he continued. “Whatever it takes to make the play and make the out, that’s all that matters. It’s not a typical out. It’s a little bit wetter than it has been in the year. I kind of stuck and did a scorpion move. My back didn’t hurt. I just ate a little dirt and made the out.”
But if for some strange reason those two plays didn’t do anything for you, the Astros once again put together an incredible defensive display one inning after Brantley’s impeccable catch. This time, the scene was moved to the infield where Altuve started things off with a smooth fade-away throw to second. Correa then made the catch, dragged his toe ever so slightly on the bag and fired the ball to first for the inning to end on yet another double play. It’s an above average play, especially for the postseason, but what makes it really stand out is how Correa’s throw to first clocked in at 94.5 mph.
So how did a team with so much defensive momentum follow up those three incredible innings? They scored just one run, and their closer gave up a two-run dinger in the top of the ninth that seemed to silence the entire city of Houston. As it turns out, it takes more than just outstanding defense to win a pennant, so it’s good that Altuve was there to do what he did. Still, I imagine it’s a lot more difficult for the Astros to give their second baseman to opportunity to be the hero if even one of those plays falters a little bit.