Before he answered any questions about the Houston Astros’ series-opening victory here Thursday, Justin Verlander asked one of his own. “First off,” the ace pitcher said, “how good is Jose Altuve?”
After everything Altuve has done this season — and particularly after what he did in an 8-2 pounding of the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of their American League Division Series — even his Astros teammates are running out of ways to put his feats into context. For the past six months, they saw him hit .346 en route to his third career batting title. And now, as the playoffs began, they watched the 5-foot-6 dynamo bash three home runs, two against Red Sox ace Chris Sale.
It was a performance that would have made even Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton blush. It put Altuve in a class with George Brett, Reggie Jackson, Babe Ruth and future Hall of Famers Albert Pujols and Adrian Beltre as players who have homered three times in a postseason game.
Quite simply, it was a breathtaking power display from the best hitter in the American League’s most powerful offense.
Altuve blasted a 97-mph fastball from Sale into a standing-room-only section above the left-center field fence in the first inning. He hit a 96-mph fastball from Sale to nearly the same spot in the fifth. And he greeted rookie reliever Austin Maddox, a surprise addition to the Red Sox’s playoff roster, in the seventh inning by launching a changeup into the Crawford Boxes in left field.
“I couldn’t believe any of my homers,” Altuve said. “I hit one and I was like, ‘Wow.’ And the second one is like, ‘Wow, what’s going on here?'”
And the third?
“I don’t know,” Altuve said. “I’ve got to wake up.”
After that third homer, after the sellout crowd chanted “M-V-P! M-V-P!” and received the curtain call that it demanded, Altuve got a bear hug from center fielder George Springer, who grabbed his biceps and screamed in his face. The message: “That he’s a joke,” Springer said. “You want me to say what I said to him. He’s a joke. The dude, he said he never hit three homers in a game in his life. Well, it’s a great day to hit three.”
Coming into the postseason, Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge have been noted as the favorites to win the AL MVP. For me, I’ve had Altuve as the MVP and the Indians advancing to the World Series. With the addition of Justin Verlander, the Astros and Indians, if they both advance could be a classic series. As far as Jose Altuve, his story is amazing as he was always told that he wasn’t tall enough to play in the major leagues.