Clinching heroics net Altuve ALCS MVP honors

October 20th, 2019

HOUSTON -- The pictures of standing beside the 6-foot-7 Aaron Judge have circulated through social media time and time again. But even as his size is constantly called to our attention, the Astros’ small-framed second baseman never fails to prove that no moment is too big for him to handle.

The score was tied on Saturday night following a crowd-silencing two-run home run by Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu off Astros closer in the top of the ninth, and the Yanks had hard-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman on the mound. After drew a two-out walk, with one swing of the bat, Altuve sent his team to the World Series on a two-run blast in Houston's 6-4 win in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park. Moments later, Altuve was honored for those heroics, given the ALCS Most Valuable Player Award in front of a home crowd of 43,357.

"The only thing I remember while I was running the bases was, I was just thanking God for another opportunity to go to the World Series," Altuve said upon receiving the trophy. "I thank everybody in the ballpark, because you guys are the biggest reason that we're here. And my teammates, they're the MVPs of the game. I can't wait for the World Series."

Altuve waited a moment to make sure the ball was gone after it left his bat, but there was absolutely no doubt for Chapman, who froze on the mound while the ball carried 407 feet over the wall in left-center.

In six games against the Yankees, Altuve hit .348 with a double, two homers and three RBIs after hitting .350 with a 1.281 OPS and three homers vs. the Rays in the AL Division Series. He’s now reached base safely in 20 consecutive postseason games (a franchise record) dating back to Game 7 of the 2017 World Series and is the only second baseman to win both a regular season MVP Award and a postseason MVP Award.

“The playoff version of him is spectacular,” manager AJ Hinch said. “We talk about his Division Series homers and then his attention to detail in every facet of the game. He's turned himself into a star in his career here, and yet he's remained humble, he's remained hungry. He's driven. He's engaging with his teammates. It's the same old quote of, ‘Everything that's right about the Astros is José Altuve.’”

When Altuve stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, although it seemed the momentum had turned in New York’s favor, Houston knew otherwise.

Minutes before his series-clinching moment, while Chapman took his warmup pitches, Altuve was in the video room. In that moment, something must have clicked, and that must have showed, allowing his teammates to predict the celebration that was to come.

“It’s the same look in May as it is in Game 6 of the ALCS,” said of Altuve. “It takes a lot of preparation and a lot of guts to be able to have that type of cool mentality. Then I looked at Wade [Miley], I think [the count was] 2-0, and I was like, ‘Man, if he throws anything down and in, it’s going out.’"

As Altuve’s daughter jumped into his arms, with streamers falling all around them, the clock struck midnight. The calendar flipped from Oct. 19 to Oct. 20, exactly one year after Altuve had undergone surgery on his right knee. He had battled through pain for the majority of the second half of the 2018 season, and had the procedure following the final game of the ALCS.

Those issues lingered into Altuve's 2019 campaign, and he was shut down early in the season. But after slashing .262/.328/.453 in 55 games in the first half, he rebounded with a .325 batting average and a .995 OPS after the All-Star break.

Clearly, Altuve's bat has yet to cool off.

“José’s gone through a knee surgery and he didn’t feel like himself at the beginning of the year,” third baseman said. “And then he led the big leagues in hits in the second half. For him to come through in that moment, nobody’s surprised.”

“I don't like talking about the past,” Altuve said. “Obviously, we all know that it wasn't 100 percent. I got surgery right after the last game. … It's been important for me to be able to play 100 percent, because I feel like I'm a good player and I can help the team.”

Altuve has been helping the Astros since 2011, when the club posted a 56-106 record. In '12, his first All-Star year, Houston went 55-107.

Now, almost a decade later, Altuve has been a part of three consecutive 100-win teams and will find himself back in the World Series for the second time in three seasons. And although he’s certainly experienced his fair share of big moments, including catching the final out of the 2017 World Series, he said that Saturday’s walk-off homer tops them all.

“He’s the face of this organization,” Osuna said. “He’s the captain, he’s everything for us, and he showed it tonight.”

“He’s been here since the beginning,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “He’s had a lot of big moments in his career, but when you hit a walk-off homer to send your team to the World Series after what happened where we blew a lead, that’s storybook stuff. There’s no player I’d script that for better than Altuve. ... That’s something we’re going to be reading about for a long time.”