HOUSTON — Dave Martinez wasn’t about to do any second-guessing of Aaron Boone and the Yankees.
Managers generally don’t do that in public to other managers and the Nationals skipper, a few hours before Game 1 of the World Series against the Astros, wasn’t going to do it regarding the Yankees’ decision to pitch to Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS with two outs and a runner on first in a tie game. No Yankees fan needs reminding how it ended — Altuve destroying a hanging slider from Aroldis Chapman to send the Astros to the World Series.
So, would Martinez have pitched to Altuve, who long ago established himself as an October killer?
“I’m going to plead the Fifth on that,” Martinez said to laughter.
Which isn’t to say Martinez wasn’t watching. He just kept his thoughts to himself.
“But, hey, you’re talking about one of the premier hitters in the game,” Martinez said. “You have one of the best closers in the game, too, as well.”
Bested by Altuve, who has not only victimized the Yankees in his postseason career.
The 29-year-old, who debuted in 2011, has hit .287 with a .906 OPS with 13 homers in 43 postseason games entering Tuesday night.
In the Astros six-game victory over the Yankees, the righty-hitting second baseman hit .348 with a 1.097 OPS. Two years before, in the Astros seven-game ALCS victory over the Yankees, Altuve hit .320 with a .974 OPS.
“I don’t know,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said, asked yet again about Altuve. “I’ve said things for five years now, I’ve talked about how great this guy is, and he continues to exceed expectations. It’s not easy to deliver the way he does.”
Before facing the Yankees, Altuve, who stands 5-6 but never brings it up and doesn’t wear it like a chip on his shoulder, destroyed the Rays in a five-game ALDS victory, hitting .350 with a 1.281 OPS with three homers.
“The playoff version of him is spectacular,” Hinch said. “We talk about his Division Series homers and then his attention to detail in every facet of the game. He’s turned himself into a star in his career here, and yet he’s remained humble, he’s remained hungry. He’s driven. He’s engaging with his teammates. It’s the same old quote: Everything that’s right about the Astros is Jose Altuve. He’s been here the longest and seen this organization grow from the ground up. I’m so proud of him. I’m so fortunate to be his manager.”
After beating the Yankees, Altuve talked not about his homer but George Springer’s walk that preceded it and Yuli Gurriel’s three-run homer in the first off Chad Green.
“We’re not going to the World Series because of me, we’re going to the World Series because of everybody inside of the clubhouse,” he said that night. “For me, Yuli’s homer was really big. To score early in the game against the Yankees in a bullpen day, when their bullpen is really, really good. But I feel happy that I could help my team.”
Houston’s Game 2 starter Justin Verlander, who came over to the Astros late in his career at an Aug. 31, 2017 deadline deal, continually has been impressed with his teammate.
“You see the passion he plays with, you see the energy he plays with, you see the fun he has,” Verlander said Tuesday. “That’s just the person he is. It’s not a facade. He’s that person in the locker room, he lifts everybody up. He never comes in in a bad mood. He’s always jovial. He’s such a superstar, and he doesn’t act that way. He’s so humble. Always fun to be around. Always wanting to learn and get better. Best teammate. That’s all you can really say about him.”