MLB playoffs 2021: Are the Houston Astros for real? MLB's villains look to win back baseball's respect

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

JOSE ALTUVE SWUNG at the very first pitch of the game on Aug. 3, a high fastball from Los Angeles Dodgers starter Walker Buehler, and launched a 400-foot drive that arced high above Dodger Stadium before barely hooking foul. It was a wholly unremarkable moment, quickly lost amid the commotion of a short series stuffed with high drama, and yet Houston Astros general manager James Click was still thinking about it nearly two months later.

In the 90 minutes that preceded that pitch, Altuve seemed to absorb the pent-up frustrations of an entire Dodgers fan base that still feels cheated out of the 2017 World Series. The Astros' second baseman heard a steady stream of boos as he navigated through pregame batting practice, got showered with a litany of expletive-laden insults as he made small talk near the first-base dugout, felt the hostility of a swelling crowd as he stretched alone in center field. And in that moment, Click believes, Altuve "wanted to send a message."

It was one violent swing, but it seemed to embody the quiet, subtle defiance that keeps pushing these Astros.