BOSTON — Alex Bregman didn’t have a hit in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. Yet by a large margin, the third baseman was the MIP (Most Impactful Player) of the Astros’ 7-2 victory over the Red Sox on Saturday night at Fenway Park.
Bregman went 0-for-1 but reached base four times — three walks and a hit by pitch — and scored two runs. His importance, however, showed most in the field. Bregman, a standout defender as well as a force on offense, recorded seven assists, and few would have been described as routine.
“He was a vacuum cleaner over there,” said the Astro who benefited most from Bregman’s fielding, Justin Verlander, who allowed two runs in six innings. “He made some of those plays look easy that weren’t. And even though he didn’t have the big swing that we usually see from him, that’s just another facet of his game that makes him so great, that helps us win ballgames.”
Bregman’s work included a throw home to Martin Maldonado in the fifth inning to save a run.
It was especially noticeable on a night when Red Sox third baseman Eduardo Nuñez had his problems. Nuñez couldn’t come up with George Springer’s ground smash that went for a two-run single in the second inning, and he committed an error in the sixth that led to Carlos Correa’s two-out RBI single that gave Houston a 3-2 lead.
Yankees fans are all too familiar with the frustration Red Sox fans must have felt watching Bregman’s display. In the Astros’ 4-0 victory over the Yankees in ALCS Game 7 last year, Bregman made the game’s most important defensive play. After fielding Todd Frazier’s slow chopper with runners at first and third and one out in the fifth inning, Bregman’s risky throw nipped Greg Bird at the plate to preserve Houston’s 1-0 lead.
“He’s a stud. He’s been our stud all year long,” rightfielder Josh Reddick said after Saturday’s game. “JV [Verlander] put it best; I think he said he’s a vacuum over at third base. We’re seeing and experiencing a superstar player in the making, if not already. Great plate discipline, great glove at third base and a guy who just loves the game so much, it’s almost annoying.”
Reddick said that with a smile, hitting on Bregman’s overall popularity in the clubhouse. The 24-year-old took Spanish while growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and has continued to make an effort to learn the language so he can communicate better with his Latino teammates.
Bregman hit .286 with 31 homers and 103 RBIs and posted a .926 OPS in the regular season. He entered Sunday night 5-for-10 with two homers, a double and seven walks in this postseason.
“It’s amazing what he means for the team,” said Jose Altuve, the 2017 AL MVP. “At such a young age, he becomes a superstar. He has a great relationship with every single guy in the clubhouse. He’s a leader and, like I said, he can connect with pitchers, position players, coaches, everybody. And like I said many times, he’s the biggest reason why we are playing the Red Sox right now.”
Astros manager A.J. Hinch, who encourages his players to show their individual personalities, clearly enjoys Bregman’s. The third baseman showed some of it after Game 1. Before coming to the center of the clubhouse for a group interview that included reporters from print and TV, he paused and said, “How’s my hair?”
Underneath it all is a gym rat.
“I’ve never been around someone who loves baseball more than Alex Bregman,” Hinch said. “And at this level, when you’re around so many different people, to me that’s saying something.”
Jeff Luhnow, who has been the Astros’ general manager since December 2011, pulled the trigger on drafting Bregman second overall out of LSU in 2015.
“His entire time at LSU, that was the number one thing that people raved about,” Luhnow said Sunday. “That he’s a baseball rat, he’s got plus-makeup, he’s the first guy there, he works his butt off. He does everything it takes to get better. He’s really the whole package for us.”