The baseball game had raged beyond five hours, from the Texas evening into early morning of a new day, when a young man from Albuquerque grabbed a bat.
Alex Bregman, who grew up in Albuquerque imagining such heroics, ended Game 5 of the World Series early Monday morning in Houston with an RBI single off indomitable Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, giving the Astros an exhausting 13-12 victory.
Afterward, mlb.com asked him: “Why is it that you were so fearless? What is it about you?”
Bregman’s answer: “I don’t know. I think it’s just due to the preparation I put in the offseason and spring training, and knowing that I have such good teammates around me, that I just need to do my part and pull my end of the rope. When you have a guy like Jose Altuve hitting behind you right there, I’m pretty sure Jansen would rather face me than him. So I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit.”
The Astros are in Los Angeles today, holding a 3-2 Series edge, looking to win their first world championship in franchise history.
And throughout this pursuit of a place in the baseball annals, the 23-year-old Bregman has announced his arrival to a national audience.
Folks in Albuquerque have known him for a while. When he was a sophomore at Albuquerque Academy, he was named USA Baseball Player of the Year.
When he was at baseball powerhouse Louisiana State University, school officials threatened to take away his key to the building where the batting cage was because he was in there all hours of the day and night.
“Obviously it’s in his DNA,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch told the Houston Chronicle on Sunday. “Since the day he showed up in the big leagues, he’s had a great youthful exuberance about himself and confidence about himself that is unwavered.
“I’m sure part of it is how he’s raised. I think part of it is how he’s grown and matured and comes to the levels. There is no higher level than this level, and he’s doing pretty well at it, which will add to that confidence.”
Bregman is one of eight players 23 years or younger who have hit multiple homers in the same World Series. Count Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Jimmie Foxx among them.
Fox has singled him out for interviews. The New York Times has featured him.
“He loves baseball more than anybody I’ve ever seen,” his teammate Brian McCann told FS1 in its postgame show. “He lives for these moments.”
During the Series so far, in five games and 22 at-bats, Bregman has five runs, six hits, a double, two homers, five RBIs, two walks and a .274 batting average.
In Game 1, he hit a solo homer off a fastball from Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, providing the Astros their only run in a 3-1 loss.
He had two hits in Game 2, an epic 7-6 Houston win in 11 innings.
He was relatively quiet in Game 3, still contributing an RBI and a walk in Houston’s 5-3 win.
Lest we forget his defense at third base, in Game 4, with the game tied 0-0 in the sixth, Bregman charged a Charles Taylor grounder and darted a throw home to catcher McCann, who forced out Austin Barnes. His glove work has been praised by, among others, Alex Rodriguez, a man who used to roam third base territory with flair.
The Astros lost Game 4, 6-2, but Bregman also contributed his second homer of the Series – off Jansen.
In Game 5, before his 10th-inning heroics, he finagled a 10-pitch walk off Kershaw, forcing Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to yank his ace in the fifth inning.
With the game knotted at 12-12, and after Sunday had become Monday, Bregman watched as the table was set for him. With two outs in the 10th, Jansen hit McCann with a pitch. The next batter, George Springer, then walked. With the potential winning run in scoring position at second base, speedy pinch-runner Derek Fisher came in to run for McCann as Bregman stepped to the plate.
“It’s your time,” Astros All-Star Carlos Correa told Bregman as he approached his moment.
Since he had hit Jansen’s slider for a homer the night before, Bregman figured he would not see that pitch. He said he looked for something down in the strike zone, something he could stay on top of. And that’s what he got – a cutter down and away. He slapped a single to left field and Fisher sprinted home. After five hours and 17 minutes, it was over and Bregman was part of World Series lore.
“That guy lives for stuff like this,” Springer said of Bregman. “He loves it. I noticed he was digging in the box a little harder. He wanted to be the guy to do it.”
Bregman said to the nation’s media: “It’s such a special feeling that I’m so fortunate and blessed to feel.”