Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch walked off the dais inside Nationals Park’s interview room, passing Alex Bregman in the process.
“Good luck following that, buddy,” Hinch quipped as they crossed paths after his postgame news conference, but Bregman knows what it’s like to go second. He had little to prove at the podium after his bat had done all the talking.
Seven months stand between now and early June, when the Orioles will make the second overall selection in 2020 amateur draft. But a preview of what that pick could become is being put on display only an hour away.
Following a season in which he swatted 41 home runs with a 1.015 OPS, Bregman, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, had mostly struggled this postseason, batting .208 before Saturday’s three-hit day that included the slam.
“He’s one of the best players in baseball,” Hinch said. “But it’s nice to see him crack a smile when he comes up big with a big swing and he enjoys the moment. 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. 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."
He delivered a third straight single off Washington starter Patrick Corbin in the first inning to give Houston an early lead. In the seventh, with the Astros up 4-1, Bregman got a second chance to face reliever Fernando Rodney with the bases loaded after he grounded out after an intentional walk the night before.
Bregman turned on Rodney’s 0-1, 93 mph two-seam fastball and sent it out to left field as he walked halfway up the first-base line with his bat pointed skyward, delivering what Hinch called “a knockout punch for the game.”
“We’re fired up,” Bregman said. “This is why you play the game. This is the World Series. We’ve got two great pitching staffs, two great offenses going at it. And it’s a lot of fun.”
It was the first World Series grand slam by an American Leaguer since 2005 — when Chicago White Sox slugger Paul Konerko hit one off … the National League’s Astros. Much has changed in Houston since then, with the Astros dipping to baseball’s worst franchise for three straight years before eventually soaring to its best for the past three, changing leagues in the process. Bregman is a product of that reeling stretch, available to Houston with 2015’s second pick after the franchise didn’t sign 2014 top pick Brady Aiken.
Mike Elias, the Orioles’ executive vice president/general manager, served as Houston’s amateur scouting director for the Astros’ pick of Bregman, which came only after the Arizona Diamondbacks went with another Southeastern Conference shortstop in Dansby Swanson out of Vanderbilt with the first selection. Bregman, who wore No. 30 at LSU to denote how many teams didn’t take him in the first round out of high school, began to don No. 2 as a professional partly because of his spot in the draft.
There are certainly no guarantees whoever Baltimore selects after the Detroit Tigers make 2020’s first selection will be the presence that Bregman is, both in terms of personality and on-the-field impact; he will finish in the top five in American League MVP voting for the second straight year and might come away with the award. And although Swanson has been a solid major leaguer since Arizona traded him to the Atlanta Braves, Bregman is not alone as a No. 2 pick that has outperformed the player who preceded him. In the 51 drafts from 1965 to 2015 — the first to Bregman’s — 22 second overall picks have amassed a greater career WAR, per Baseball-Reference.com, than the first pick or made the majors when the first pick didn’t, a rate of 43.1%.
It’s unknown whether the Tigers will select Georgia pitcher Emerson Hancock, Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, Vanderbilt third baseman Austin Martin or someone else entirely once they’re put on the clock in June, and it’s even less clear who the Orioles would then pick behind them.