With stellar Game 4, Houston Astros' Jose Altuve puts fielding nightmare behind him: 'I left that in the past'

SAN DIEGO -- Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has been missing from the pregame and postgame Zoom interviews for days. But he showed up Wednesday after he was able to shake himself free from the fielding nightmare that gripped him the previous two days.

"It's not easy," Altuve said when asked about the past few days. "It's not easy to do things against your team. You're always trying to help your team. For me, to just not contribute, to not play good and help my team to win, it feels bad."

Altuve did a 180 for the Astros on Wednesday, starting things off when he socked a first-inning solo home run and added an RBI double in the third, seemingly gaining confidence with each swing.

"I didn't have a choice," Altuve said of his stellar Game 4, which helped Houston beat Tampa Bay 4-3 and avoid elimination in the American League Championship Series. "It was today or go home, and I didn't want to go home yet."

Said manager Dusty Baker: "Hey, man, he's been swinging the bat great. Everybody is just so happy for Altuve."

But it wasn't at the plate that all eyes were on Altuve. The most anticipated part of Altuve's game on this night was how he would handle defensive plays. He had only two chances and made solid, accurate throws each time, including a ninth-inning grounder with a runner on first that nearly recreated his throw to shortstop Carlos Correa from the day before, a throw he short-hopped. That ball wound up in left field, and the Rays scored five runs immediately afterward.

Before this game, while every other Astros position player was loosening up, Baker pulled Altuve aside for a chat. There was a thought that maybe Baker would move Altuve to the designated hitter role in Game 4, giving him time to clear his head. But Baker said that was never a consideration.

"I told him that another second baseman, little Joe Morgan, batted third for the Big Red Machine," said Baker, who moved Altuve from second in the lineup to third for Game 4. "He told me, 'I'm ready.'"

Throw in a solid pitching performance from Zack Greinke, and the Astros remain alive in the ALCS after Houston finally earned a victory in Game 4. The Astros still face a steep climb in the best-of-seven series. One more loss will end their season, but instead of boarding a flight to Houston on Thursday, the Astros will play at least one more game at Petco Park, which is hosting this year's ALCS amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"It was tough," said George Springer, who has played his entire career with Altuve. "He prides himself in every aspect of the game. When he believes that he failed or let the guys down, he takes it to heart. But one of the most impressive things about Jose is how he can clear his head and contribute in all aspects of his game. I know the head he has on his shoulders. He's our leader and always has been."

It was Baker who first mentioned the possibility of Altuve having the "yips," a condition in which a player unexplainably can no longer consistently throw the ball accurately. Altuve committed a combined three throwing errors in Games 2 and 3 of this series. Two of those errors preceded eight Tampa Bay runs.

"Those are things that happen in baseball," Altuve said. "I left that in the past and showed up today ready to play some baseball and help my team."