Slumping Astros star Bregman breaks loose, slams Nationals

Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman watches his grand slam against the Washington Nationals during the seventh inning of Game 4 of the baseball World Series Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — By the time Alex Bregman took nearly 30 seconds to circle the bases, then engaged in a series of animated high-fives, pats, hugs and personalized handshakes between the plate and the dugout, it was pretty clear.

See ya, slump.

Bregman broke loose Saturday night, putting the Houston Astros ahead with an RBI single in the first inning and later launching a grand slam off Fernando Rodney that highlighted an 8-1 romp over Washington in Game 4 of the World Series.

“This game was a game of failure, and you’re going to fail a heck of a lot more than you succeed in it,” Bregman said. “So I think the feeling that I had when I hit that was I was pretty fired up.”

Holding his bat high, Bregman took a half-dozen steps or more down the first base line, watching his game-breaking slam sail in the seventh. He added another single for good measure as the Astros pulled even.

“Tweaked a few things mechanically in between at-bats today,” he said. “But I wouldn’t say I really changed too much approach-wise. I think just mechanically I was better.”

A day earlier, the regular season MVP candidate was hitless in five-bats, including a groundout against Rodney after the Nationals issued an intentional walk to face Bregman with the bases loaded.

Overall, that left him at 1 for 13 in the Series.

Bregman wasn’t daunted — that’s not his personality, he’s definitely among the most self-assured players in baseball.

The cleanup man was confident he would clean up. So were the Astros.

“I wasn’t worried about Alex. He might go 0 for 10, but then he might go 10 for 10 with 20 RBIs. I know he’s going to go and play good and he’s going to help us win the World Series,” star second baseman José Altuve said.

Said manager AJ Hinch: “He’s one of the best players in baseball. But it is nice to see him crack a smile.”

“He’s been our rock in the middle of the order, and it’s tough when you see him not be as consistent as he was during the season,” he said. “But there’s not a man in that clubhouse that was doubting that he was going to pay big for us at some point when given the opportunity again.”

It didn’t take long — Bregman pounced on the first pitch he saw, and the Astros led the rest of the way.

Bregman delivered in a ballpark where he’s had success, and in a city where his family has a legacy.

Last year, Bregman’s leadoff home run in the 10th inning at Nationals Park sent the American League to an 8-6 win and earned him the All-Star Game MVP award.

A half-century ago, his grandfather was general counsel for the Washington Senators, the team that moved to become the Texas Rangers for the 1971 season, leaving the nation’s capital without the national pastime until the Montreal Expos came in 2005.

The 25-year-old third baseman hit 41 homers with 112 RBIs this season. But with the Astros aiming to add to the championship they won in 2017, he’d been stuck in neutral this week, aside from a home run in a 12-3 loss in Game 2. Even his usually sure-handed defense at third base had been subpar.

“It’s Alex Bregman, he’ll figure out a way all the time. He always figures it out,” Astros pitcher Brad Peacock said.

Bregman quickly got in gear.

After Altuve and Michael Brantley singled with one out in the first off Patrick Corbin, Bregman lined a single to left-center for a 1-0 lead.

Yuli Gurriel followed with an RBI single, and a pocket of orange-wearing Houston fans in the third deck past the right field foul pole began their chant of “Let’s go, Astros!”

Bregman ended any doubt about Houston winning with his slam, a deep drive off Rodney that easily cleared the left field wall.

“Huge swing. Essentially a knockout punch for the game at the biggest moment with nowhere to put him,” Hinch said.

Bregman enjoyed the trip around the bases, and Astros teammates spilled from the dugout to greet him. Back on the bench, he held up four fingers.

At that point, many Nationals fans already were filing toward the exits. And way up above the right field foul pole, the cheer got louder and louder.