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The bigger the stage, the brighter Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman shines

Oct. 7, 2018 Updated Sun., Oct. 7, 2018 at 9:31 p.m.

Houston’s Alex Bregman celebrates after hitting a solo home run during the seventh inning of Game 2 of a baseball American League Division Series, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Houston. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
Houston’s Alex Bregman celebrates after hitting a solo home run during the seventh inning of Game 2 of a baseball American League Division Series, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Houston. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
By Kristie Rieken Associated Press

HOUSTON – Ask any Houston Astros player and he will say the same thing: Alex Bregman was made for these moments.

The young third baseman was great for the defending champions all season, and now that the calendar has flipped to October he’s taken his play to another level, slugging two home runs to help Houston to a 2-0 lead in the A.L. Division Series against the Cleveland Indians.

“He loves the bright lights,” praised George Springer, MVP of the World Series last year. “He loves the big stage … he believes he should get a hit every time or make the big play or score the big run. That’s just who he is and when you have a guy like that it makes you want to do the same thing.”

Game 3 is Monday in Cleveland.

The 24-year-old Bregman had the best year of his career this season, leading the A.L. with a career-high 51 doubles, and setting career marks by hitting .286 with 31 home runs and 103 RBIs. His breakout season helped carry the offense in a year where last year’s MVP Jose Altuve and star shortstop Carlos Correa struggled with injuries.

“He brings joy to the team,” Altuve said. “He shows up here and lets everybody know he’s ready to play and … you see how he plays and you’re like: ‘OK. I want to join him, and I want to play at the same level he’s playing.’”

Bregman gave Houston its first run of the playoffs this season when he hit a solo homer off Corey Kluber in the fourth inning of Game 1 on Friday. It was the first of four homers hit by the Astros in a 7-2 win. The Astros were up by 1 in Game 2 on Saturday when Bregman connected off Trevor Bauer with two outs and none on in the seventh to add some insurance in the 3-1 victory.

“This is what it’s all about,” Bregman said. “This type of baseball is a blast. Everybody in that clubhouse is living and dying on every pitch. It’s fun to play these types of games.”

Bregman, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, hit four homers and drove in 10 runs in his postseason debut last season to help the Astros to their first World Series title. He homered twice against the Dodgers in the World Series, and his two-out single in the 10th ended Houston’s thrilling 13-12 win in Game 5.

Selected as an All-Star for the first time this season, he hit a tiebreaking home run in the 10th inning at Nationals Park in July that sent the A.L. to victory.

Bregman never seems daunted by important moments despite having played just two full seasons in the majors.

Manager AJ Hinch said Bregman has a “calm heartbeat” and he knows the Astros can always count on him when they need a big play whether it be on offense or defense.

“I love how he describes pressure. He describes pressure as a privilege,” Hinch said. “That, to me, shows someone that gets it, someone that is going to be able to handle the moment.”

Though Hinch and the Astros have come to expect this level of play from the former LSU standout, the manager sometimes takes a step back simply to appreciate his greatness.

“It’s amazing to watch him do it time after time after time,” Hinch said. “We’re getting spoiled. Guys aren’t supposed to do it at this level at that rate he’s been doing.”

Bregman isn’t interested in discussing individual awards and accolades and says his only focus is helping the Astros repeat as champions. And as much as he’s done so far, he’s constantly working to do more and get better.

“This was definitely, definitely something I envisioned doing, (but) I think there’s so much room to improve on both sides of the ball, and I look forward to working on it,” he said.

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