LOS ANGELES -- The first murmurs began long before Jose Altuve approached home plate. The Dodgers were making a pitching change with two men on base in the fifth inning of Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday, giving Minute Maid Park's constituency plenty of time to serenade its
LOS ANGELES -- The first murmurs began long before Jose Altuve approached home plate. The Dodgers were making a pitching change with two men on base in the fifth inning of Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday, giving Minute Maid Park's constituency plenty of time to serenade its most beloved star. Fans serenaded Altuve: "M-V-P! M-V-P!"
Though it was clear what Houston's faithful wanted, rarely does baseball turn fairytale narratives into reality. The game's beauty is rooted in its unpredictability. Few would have thought less of Altuve had he rolled over a slider or perhaps struck out, passing the responsibility down the line to someone else.
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Instead, Altuve sent a piece of artwork into the night, delivering a three-run, game-tying homer in the Astros' 13-12, 10-inning victory, which put them one win away from the first championship in franchise history. Thunderous at that point, the chants echoed across Minute Maid Park's walls.
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"I don't really think there's a time where we don't think Jose's going to get a hit," teammate George Springer said. "In my eyes, he's the best player in this game."
There is a reasonable chance, in two weeks' time, that the Baseball Writers' Association of America will crown Altuve as the American League MVP -- though the Yankees' Aaron Judge presents formidable competition. There is also a fair chance Altuve could become the World Series MVP. There again, he faces stiff competition from Springer.
With a shot at both, Altuve could become just the sixth player to be his league's MVP and the World Series MVP in the same season, and the first since Mike Schmidt in 1980 with the Phillies.
These are not the things that drive him. Altuve is after a title, however it comes, playing for a team that understands the path goes through him. As much as Springer and Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa have shined this postseason, Altuve is the soul of this club.
"I don't know any more ways to describe Jose," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said before the World Series, "other than he's as close to perfect as you can imagine."
It seems almost comical now that, heading into American League Championship Series Game 6, Altuve had his critics.
The All-Star second baseman endured an 0-for-12 slump before cracking a two-run single and a solo homer that night, then another home run to guide the Astros to the pennant in Game 7 against the Yankees. Four days later, Altuve hit a go-ahead homer in the 10th inning of World Series Game 2, which the Astros went on to win in the 11th.
But he saved his best work for Game 5. In that one, Altuve hit the Astros' second game-tying, three-run homer of the night, later adding a go-ahead RBI double to finish 3-for-5 with four RBIs and three runs scored.
"He's the best player alive right now," Correa said. "And when he steps in the batter's box, great things are going to happen."
While Altuve is batting just .250 in five World Series games, he is up to .344/.417/.703 in the postseason as a whole. In his last seven games, he has four home runs and nine RBIs.
Perhaps this should all be unsurprising from a player who won the batting title with a .346 average this season, rapping out 24 homers among his 204 hits.
"He's very, very underrated, believe it or not," Springer said. "But he's been clutch all year. He's been clutch his whole career. And I have the utmost confidence in him whenever he's up. He just kind of does his job and goes home. But the guys in this clubhouse know who he is. The guys he plays against know who he is."
Anyone who did not must know now, with the Astros on the cusp of a championship. It's little wonder Altuve has been at the center of it.
"We have one more victory," Altuve said. "But we're still very humble about that. We also know who we're playing. You have to play for every single inning to beat the Dodgers. We've beat them in LA. We've got to do it again."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.