The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Astros’ Jose Altuve needs surgery on thumb fractured in WBC game

Astros second baseman Jose Altuve of Venezuela suffered a fractured thumb when he was hit by a pitch in Saturday night’s World Baseball Classic game against the United States. (Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
4 min

MIAMI — Just three days after New York Mets closer Edwin Díaz suffered a torn patella tendon during Puerto Rico’s postgame celebration, the World Baseball Classic altered another all-star’s season when Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve was hit by a pitch Saturday night during Venezuela’s loss to the United States. Altuve suffered a fractured right thumb and will require surgery in the coming days, according to the Astros. He probably will miss the first month of the season, if not more.

The 2017 American League MVP and two-time World Series champion was victimized by a 95-mph fastball that ran in on his hands in the fifth inning. At the time, U.S. pitcher Daniel Bard was in the middle of a breakdown of command that helped the Venezuelans erase an early deficit and take the lead. The Americans rallied to win thanks to Trea Turner’s eighth-inning grand slam, one that ensured Venezuela would not only lose for the first time in the tournament but go home.

The defending World Series champions did not commit to a timeline for Altuve’s return, but Astros General Manager Dana Brown was not coy about the impact the injury will have on a team that again carries postseason expectations.

“It’s a massive blow. You can’t replace a player like this this close to the season,” Brown told the Houston Chronicle at the Astros’ spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Sunday. “These players don’t exist. You just can’t go out and replace this type of a player.”

Altuve is the second irreplaceable player on a World Series hopeful to suffer a season-altering injury in the tournament. Since Díaz crumpled after Puerto Rico’s victory over the Dominican Republic, players and managers across Major League Baseball have been fielding questions about whether the tournament is worth the risk it poses to big league players ahead of their grueling regular season. To a man, those involved in the WBC have been adamant that the risk of injury is both no greater than it would be in spring training and entirely worth it. Venezuela Manager Omar Lopez, for example, offered a lengthy defense of the tournament’s importance to players and their home countries in the wake of Díaz’s injury. But on Saturday night, he was less effusive.

“Of course I’m deeply concerned, sad, frustrated. I would like to express my emotions in a different way, but I have to be strong in front of you, in front of my family, in front of my country,” Lopez said during his postgame news conference. “I asked God to give back the players to the organizations in a healthy way. It is easy to pray when things go well, but when things go bad, we have to pray and ask Him to give us strength and to desire the mental and physical recuperation of all the team.”

MLB teams brace for their stars to leave for WBC: ‘I’m always worried’

By many measures (or at least the ones MLB has been eager to share with reporters), this fifth iteration of the WBC has been the most watched tournament yet. Saturday night’s quarterfinal was played in front of a sellout crowd at Miami’s LoanDepot Park in what Turner called “probably the loudest game I’ve ever played in.”

MLB reported that pool play was the best-attended round in the brief history of the tournament and that Japan’s game against Korea was watched by more households in Japan than any sport in the Tokyo Olympics. Even the Americans’ first game against Great Britain — not exactly a marquee matchup — drew more viewers in the United States than any first-round game since 2009, MLB said.

Part of the increased appeal, it would seem, is the willingness of MLB stars to participate in greater numbers than before, particularly for the Americans. Altuve’s Venezuelan team included almost every MLB star from that country, too. The more stars involved, the more likely it is that one of them will suffer a major injury.

As Díaz’s Mets teammate Brandon Nimmo said last week, injuries can happen in spring training games, too. A day later, Nimmo — who said he skipped the WBC to focus on the major league season — was helped off the field with an ankle injury after sliding into second base. Beware the slides of March, wherever they occur.