George Springer didn't single-handedly deliver the Houston Astros a win in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, but he did drive in as many runs on his own as the Boston Red Sox managed all night.
Such are the powers of postseason heroes.
Springer has been exactly that for the bulk of his postseason career, and so it went for the 29-year-old Saturday at Fenway Park. It was his two-run single off Boston ace Chris Sale in the second inning that got the ball rolling on a 7-2 Astros win:
Granted, a better third baseman than Eduardo Nunez probably makes that play. The play itself is also symbolic of how the Red Sox performed in Game 1. Their pitchers were wild. Their defense was sloppy. Their bats were sleepy. Altogether, they didn't look at all ready to take on the defending World Series champions.
While we're granting things, other Astros deserve just as much credit as Springer for the Game 1 victory.
Justin Verlander pitched six strong innings. Alex Bregman drew three walks and played an excellent third base. Josh Reddick (solo) and Yuli Gurriel (three-run) broke the game open with home runs in the ninth. Even without mentioning Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa or Gerrit Cole, let this be a regular reminder that the Astros have a lot of stars.
It is, however, nothing new to see them all fall in behind Springer in October.
The two-time All-Star outfielder—who boasts 121 homers and an .824 OPS in five seasons—went into Game 1 of the ALCS fresh off a spectacular showing in Houston's sweep of the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series. He hit .429 with a 1.071 OPS and three home runs.
It was more of the same for Springer from the Astros' victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series. Springer won the series MVP on the strength of a 1.471 OPS and five home runs.
This is typically where one pays lip service to the notion that elite postseason performers have a special gene that makes them all sparkly under the October lights. The "clutch gene," they call it.
But while Springer himself can't help but wonder about that, even he hesitated to buy completely into it.
"I just think it's one of those times where the lights get brighter, the stage gets a little bit bigger, and I think guys tend to concentrate more," Springer said after the ALDS, according to Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post. "You hone in on stuff, and, again, I don't know. I'm not going to complain about it. I'm happy that it happened."
For what it's worth, Springer knows as well as anyone that October stardom can be easy come, easy go.
Take how he started his postseason career. He collected only five hits in 23 at-bats in Houston's abbreviated October run in 2015. He caught fire (1.180 OPS) when the Astros took down the Red Sox in last year's ALDS, but the fire quickly went out. He went 3-for-30 over his next eight games. Included within was a golden sombrero (four strikeouts) in Game 1 of the World Series.
To his credit, Astros manager A.J. Hinch refused to drop Springer out of the leadoff spot or out of the lineup entirely. He issued a vote of confidence instead, which didn't go unnoticed by the man himself.
"For him to have my back and say that, 'You're still going to hit first and you're still going to set the tone for us,' it slowed me down," Springer told reporters.
What followed was no ordinary World Series hot streak.
Springer destroyed the Dodgers to the tune of a 1.693 OPS over the final six games. His five homers tied a World Series record. His 29 total bases set a new record.
It ought to have been impossible for Springer to author a worthy follow-up to that performance this time around. But as ESPN's Buster Olney noted, he was back in record territory as soon as he slammed three homers against Cleveland:
Buster Olney @Buster_ESPN
ELIAS: Over his last 9 postseason games (dating back to Game 2 of 2017 World Series), George Springer is 17-for-39 (.436) with eight home runs. That’s tied for the most homers over a 9-game span in the postseason, done by three others: Reggie Jackson, Jim Thome, Carlos Beltran.
Despite his occasional slumps, Springer now has a 1.008 OPS through his first 28 postseason games. That doesn't quite put him on the same level as Carlos Beltran (1.306) and Lou Gehrig (1.263) through the same stage, but it does sandwich him nicely in between Chipper Jones (1.010) and Paul Molitor (1.000).
Ultimately, what the Astros have atop their lineup is a very good player who's totally locked in. Whether it's due to a special gene or blessing from the baseball gods, that's the reality of George Springer right now.
Lucky for the Astros, they don't need to question it. They just need to enjoy it for as long as they can.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.