You can't pin the Tampa Bay Rays' five-run, sixth-inning rally all on the Houston Astros' Jose Altuve. But Altuve's sudden case of the yips has come to exemplify an American League Championship Series in which the Astros can't seem to catch a break.
Altuve committed his fourth throwing error of the postseason and third of the ALCS during the Rays' decisive rally in a 5-2 victory Tuesday that put Tampa Bay one win away from a pennant-winning sweep of the defending AL champions.
"It was a nightmare inning," Astros manager Dusty Baker said.
After bouncing two throws to first baseman Yuli Gurriel in Game 2 when making the long throw from shallow right field while playing in a shift, Altuve's error Tuesday was on a more routine play.
With Randy Arozarena on first and no outs to begin the Tampa Bay sixth, Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe grounded a ball to Altuve's left, which he fielded cleanly. But his throw to second base bounced several feet in front of shortstop Carlos Correa and careened into left field. Michael Brantley backed up the play to prevent further advance by the baserunners.
However, the floodgates were opened. First, Baker replaced starter Jose Urquidy with reliever Enoli Paredes. Then Yandy Diaz singled to load the bases. Joey Wendle singled in a pair of runs. After a sacrifice bunt -- the Rays' first of the 2020 season -- Kevin Kiermaier and Willy Adames were each hit by a pitch, forcing in a third run.
The rally was capped by a two-run double by pinch hitter Hunter Renfroe. Once the damage was tallied up, the Astros trailed 5-1. Only one of the five runs was unearned, despite Altuve's error, but the latest miscue from the perennial All-Star loomed large for the rest of the contest and into the postgame questioning.
"We're giving him all the support that we can," Baker said. "Nobody feels worse than Jose. He takes it very seriously, and he takes it to heart. He's one of ours, and we've all been through this before. Maybe not in the spotlight like this. It hurts us all to see him hurting."
The sudden onset of the yips -- a baseball term to describe a player who suddenly loses the ability to throw the ball where he wants to -- has afflicted second basemen from time to time through baseball history, with the most famous examples being Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch. Baker was asked directly if Altuve has the yips.
"I don't know," Baker said. "I really don't know. It is tough to see this happening to such a great player and such a great guy. I don't know what it is called. But you can go in a defensive slump the same way you go in an offensive slump, and then the physical turns mental.
"We certainly have to get past this."
Altuve, a former Gold Glove winner, did not commit a throwing error during the regular season. In 47 career playoff games before this season, he committed just one throwing error. The sudden turn of events had postgame queries focused as much on Altuve's mindset as on what happened in the game.
"Altuve is a great player," Correa said. "He's going to be a Hall of Famer when his career is done. These games have been tough, but he's going to bounce back like he's done before when he's struggled. I think he will be fine."
Correa added that he thought that although the error on the sixth-inning play went to Altuve, he should have been able to scoop the throw -- and he told Altuve as much in the locker room. Correa said Altuve only nodded in response. Altuve was not made available during postgame access.
While Altuve's defensive problems have emerged as a shocking development during Houston's plunge into a 3-0 series hole, Baker made it clear that he isn't about to make any rash changes in his defensive alignment. Altuve will be the starter at second base in Game 4.
"That's without a doubt," Baker said. "[Moving Altuve] isn't helping us, and it would certainly kill him."