Place chart

Astros’ Alex Bregman’s happy place got bigger this World Series

HOUSTON — Alex Bregman is stubborn and smart, hyper-competitive and shrewd, a baseball player who thinks to the core. But right now, his calculations don’t add up.

Five years after his Houston Astros debut resulted in a World Series championship, three years after he was embroiled in an illegal sign-stealing scandal during that title run and a year after a body in need of a surgical repair broke down as his club fell short again. from another ring, there is a twinkle in her eye.

The trademark swagger that accompanied him from LSU to Minute Maid Park hasn’t fully returned, and perhaps never will. The 23-year-old kid who got the biggest win of the 2017 World Series — an extra inning in Game 5 — is now a 28-year-old, new dad, dude who stood up to legitimate scorn following his role in a trash can slamming scheme that delayed his superstar cap.

Now Bregman’s Astros are one win away from a World Series title again, returning home to Minute Maid Park with a 3-2 lead and a chance to close out the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6 on Saturday night. . His firstborn, Knox, celebrated his 3-month birthday Wednesday in Philadelphia, a night that culminated in the Astros defeating the Phillies in Game 4 to tie the series, thanks in large part to Bregman’s brace.

And everything is so overwhelming.

Follow every game: MLB Live Scores

On the one hand, Bregman says winning another World Series “means the world to me.” On the other hand, he says the chance to get through the day off before a possible tire goes home with his wife Reagan and Knox “is everything to me.”

What about the simple knack of moving freely, controlling the bat with a surgically repaired wrist and non-barking quadriceps, and enjoying the postseason results that followed? Well, the simple state of “feeling good is amazing”.

In theory, everything can’t be everything, can it?

Perhaps it’s best to think of Bregman’s life right now not as a pie chart but as a series of buckets. And after three years of public scorn, moving largely in silence even though his good intentions deserved to be amplified, Bregman lets his gratitude overflow them all.

“That’s what I dream of. That’s what I love,” Bregman told USA TODAY Sports after the Astros took command of this World Series with a stunning 3-2 victory in Game 6. “Really, it’s family, friends and baseball for me.

“That’s all.”

And after a major detour, everything came together quickly.

“It’s Houston Against Y’all”

Like the rest of the world, Bregman had its own Before Times. The tide surged in 2017, when Bregman’s 10th-inning single against Kenley Jansen gave Houston a 13-12 Game 5 victory that proved to be the biggest of this World Series. He continued through back-to-back All-Star appearances in 2018 and 2019, culminating when Bregman nearly edged out Mike Trout for 2019 AL MVP.

As they are this year, the Astros went home with a 3-2 World Series lead. Bregman smoked his third homer of this World Series in Game 6, giving Houston a 2-1 lead, and gripped his bat spectacularly all the way to the first base line before dropping it after rounding the bag.

GAME 5: Life-saving catch, magic moments have win for Astros

VERLANDER: Astros ace finally earns World Series victory

It was perhaps the height of Bregman’s youthful swagger, marked by the endorsement of MLB’s fledgling “We Play Loud” campaign, but also painfully paid off later when Washington’s Juan Soto hit a kick. Justin Verlander’s circuit and mimicked the maneuver.

Baseball’s old guard has expressed its displeasure. Bregman eventually apologized after the match for “letting my emotions get the better of me”. A night later, a moderate Bregman and Nationals veteran, Ryan Zimmerman, engaged in a civil but lengthy pregame chat during batting practice.

The Astros lost Game 7. But the worst was yet to come: Less than a month later, The Athletic revealed that the 2017-18 Astros had engaged in an elaborate, code-breaking electronic sign-stealing scheme. rules, considerably tainting their only championship and challenging the players concerned.

While the program was designed and executed by players and coaches nearly two decades his senior, Bregman was undeniably involved, and he and fellow MVP Jose Altuve were pushed to the fore as the public faces of scandal.

The COVID-19 pandemic halted the game but not the backlash. Fans weren’t allowed into stadiums at the start of the season, but lined up in front of them to yell at the Astros. As attendance restrictions eased, Altuve, Bregman, George Springer, Carlos Correa and players who had nothing to do with the 2017 Astros were looked down upon from Los Angeles to New York.

They were the game’s anti-heroes, but the relentless and often misplaced anger also made it easier for the club to adopt an indifferent attitude.

“I mean, we don’t really care what the fans think,” says Ryan Pressly, who joined the club on a July 2018 trade from Minnesota. “Wherever we go, we get booed.

“It’s Houston against y’all.”

Mentality has played out well on the field: The Astros have reached the last six ALCS, including three after the sign-stealing scandal was revealed. Another championship has been elusive: Their best team in this run was eliminated by the 2019 Nationals, while last year’s version never had a lead in a six-game loss to the Boston Braves. ‘Atlanta.

You could say they were playing against a man: Bregman produced a .217/.304/.300 slash line with just one home run in 16 playoff games. Five days after their Game 6 loss, he underwent surgery on his right wrist, capping a year in which quadriceps strain limited him to 91 games.

In a sense, the Astros in 2022 would lose superstar shortstop Correa to free agency but find Bregman.

“His blood is baseball”

This is because a Bregman who cannot fully commit to the gig is not a Bregman at all. He is, as general manager James Click puts it, the “definition of a baseball rat.” The group of Astros who showed up for batting practice five hours before game time in this World Series are mostly rookies: rookies like infielder David Hensley, inactive outfielder Jake Myers and third-year center fielder Chas McCormick.

And then the double All-Star and Silver Slugger among them, physically free to participate in as many hacks as possible.

“Last year he wasn’t right,” Astros batting coach Alex Cintron said. “I don’t think he was physically healthy, his mechanics weren’t working, his movement, his body wasn’t the same. Late, nervous. It was a tough year for him.

“But I’m glad he’s stepping up in the playoffs. The last few years it was always Altuve, George Springer, Correa. And now he’s stepping up for our team, big time.

While Altuve suffered a career-worst 0-for-25 slip to start the playoffs, and MVP contender Yordan Alvarez is on a 5-for-40 slide with 15 strikeouts and no home runs since Game 2 of the ‘ALDS, Bregman was a consistent force, batting .292 with a .954 OPS and five homers in Houston’s 10-2 playoff run.

Perhaps most surprisingly, he’s only struck five times in 48 at-bats, seemingly in every at-bat and on every pitch even as the Astros face a parade of aces like Luis Castillo, Gerrit Cole and Zack Wheeler throughout this postseason. This comes after a season where he defied modern baseball trends by drawing 85 walks against just 77 strikeouts, even as he posted an .820 OPS.

“He’s one of the most incredible hitters I’ve ever seen,” says Cintron, a big league player from 2001 to 2009. “Barry Bonds was incredible; this kid is amazing. Everyone asks, how can he take all these slots? He knows.

“When he says it’s a bullet, it’s a bullet.”

Click says that when Bregman discusses the mechanics and tweaks he’s been working on, “it’s beyond my level of typing knowledge. I trust him when he says he is mechanically well placed or locked up.

Cintron and fellow hitting coach Troy Snitker help build one of the majors’ best hitting labs. Houston was again in the top five or better in the AL in average, on-base percentage and OPS, despite major losses in recent years and the occasional integration and struggles of rising stars like the stop- short rookie Jeremy Peña.

This helps when the third baseman is a virtual rock.

“His blood is baseball,” Cintron says. “He smells like baseball. He eats baseball. He’s still in the cage, watching videos, helping his teammates, helping us as striking coaches. If you don’t see him on the pitch, it’s because he’s in the cage, doing his routine.

“He can go out there and knock four times a day and be there for 30 minutes. This kid is special.

Of course, a little work-life balance can’t hurt either.

“This is what we dream of”

The pandemic has given Bregman chastened time for other things. He led a campaign to raise over $2 million for the Houston Food Bank. He joined the protests when Houston native George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, calling it “one of the most powerful experiences of my life.”

In December 2020, he and Reagan tied the knot in a scaled-down backyard ceremony due to the pandemic. Knox’s arrival in August expanded the home team.

“You’ll hear him talk, he’s a new dad, he just had the baby, how that, in many ways, demands so much of your attention,” Click says. “I think it’s healthy for him to have something, a release, something he can do off the pitch.

“He can’t get enough of this game, and maybe it’s good for him.”

While young Bregman seemed indomitable, the 28-year-old Bregman has a new appreciation for the difficulty of the Astros’ task. They barely got the better of a 107-win Dodger team in 2017. Nationals in 2019 pulled off the upset but haven’t been the same since.

And while Atlanta chased its championship with a 101-win season, it was knocked down in the NLDS by a Phillies team now in the way of the Astros.

Maybe not for long. The Astros are once again on the verge of winning a championship, which will carry considerable weight given the weight they carry. Bregman says he doesn’t necessarily relish the opportunity any more than he did as a young man. But it’s clear he’s back in his happy place, a space that seems to be growing with each passing year.

“I think everyone is enjoying every second of it,” he says. “It’s what we dream of. That’s why we love to play.