Catcher blames self for final play at the plate, sets sights on Game 3
By Bryan Hoch
HOUSTON -- Gary Sanchez was resting on one knee Saturday when Jose Altuve rose from the infield dirt at Minute Maid Park, having just swiped his left hand across home plate with the deciding run of the Astros' walk-off 2-1 victory in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World.
It made no difference now, but Sanchez stood up and dutifully trudged over to pick up the baseball, which now rested a few feet in front of the right-handed batter's box. Had Sanchez snared Didi Gregorius' short-hop throw a few moments earlier, the ALCS might look entirely different. Instead, Houston holds a 2-0 lead in the seven-game series.
With one out in the ninth inning Altuve ripped a 100 mph Aroldis Chapman fastball into center field for a single. With Altuve leading off first base, Chapman reared back and threw a 3-2 heater to Carlos Correa that the Astros shortstop ripped to the gap in right-center field.
Aaron Judge cut the ball off at the lip of the warning track, immediately opting to throw toward second base, where shortstop Gregorius cut the ball off on a bounce. Gregorius avoided Correa, who reached second base on a pop-up slide, whipping a throw home that short-hopped to Sanchez.
"He's a guy with a lot of speed," Gregorius said of Altuve. "I had it in my mind he was going to try to score. … I knew it was a fast guy running. I had to turn around and try to get the ball to the plate."
When Altuve saw the throw beat him, he knew that if Sanchez picked it up cleanly, he would be in trouble.
"Kind of, but I think we did everything right," Altuve said. "Carlos hit the ball good and [third-base coach] Gary Pettis sent me, because against Chapman, you're not going to get a lot of hits. You might get one or two per inning, so you have to take the chance."
The play elapsed in seconds, but it remained ripe for second-guessing. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that other than Sanchez's miss, the Yanks had played it well, beginning with Judge's decision to throw to second base rather than air-mailing a throw to the plate.
"We were playing deep. We didn't want anything to get by us, especially with Altuve at first," Judge said. "Anything that gets to the wall, Altuve scores on. I just tried to get it in to Didi, because I thought if I got to him, I'd have a shot at the plate."
As Judge expected, Gregorius' throw arrived in time to nail Altuve.
"I think [Judge] did the right thing," Girardi said. "He got it to Didi. He got it to the guy on the field with the best arm. [Gregorius] had to cut it off and he got it in quickly, and we had a shot at home. It's not Aaron."
Gregorius blamed himself for not throwing a strike to Sanchez, saying Altuve's speed did not leave time to set his feet. Though Gregorius said that Correa had been in his way "just a little bit," he quickly added that he did not want to point fingers. Girardi said he spoke to the umpires just to make sure Correa's pop-up slide was legal.
"I did touch him, but like I said before, I'm not trying to make any excuses," Gregorius said.
Other than catching the ball, there wasn't much Sanchez would have done differently. Someone asked him if he could have gone farther out in front of the plate to snare the ball on the fly, then reached back to tag Altuve.
"There's a possibility that if I go out there and catch it, I won't have enough time to go back and tag him," Sanchez said.
Walking off the field, Chapman said that his thoughts were simple: "Game over."
"When you play baseball, stuff like that is part of the game," Chapman said through an interpreter. "You never want to lose like that. Today was not my day. I've got to put that behind me."
So would Sanchez, who patiently waited by his locker until all of the media inquiries had been exhausted. As he reiterated in several different phrasings, it had simply come down to catching the ball.
"We lost the game," Sanchez said. "There's nothing we can do about that. We've got to turn the page and look forward to Monday, and playing good at home."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.