HOUSTON — Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve entered this American League Championship Series as the runaway co-favorites to win the league MVP award.
And this much was clear entering Saturday night’s Game 7: Those who believe Judge should win the award (which is voted on before the postseason begins) didn’t see anything during the first six games that would have changed their minds, and ditto for those who picked Altuve.
“I think they’ve both had their moments, definitely,” Joe Girardi said before Game 7. “Altuve’s been really big here. Aaron’s had some big hits for us as well, hit some home runs. So I think they’ve both had their moments.”
Altuve came into Game 7 with a .318/.400/.455 slash line, one homer and three RBIs in the first six games of the series. All of the second baseman’s RBIs came in the Astros’ 7-1 victory in Game 6. His two-out, two-run single off Luis Severino in the fifth inning gave the Astros a 3-0 lead and his leadoff homer off David Robertson in the eighth made it 4-1.
Judge entered Game 7 with a .300/.417/.850 slash line, three homers and seven RBIs. The biggest blow may well have been his homer off Lance McCullers Jr. in Game 4, which sparked the Yankees’ charge back from a 4-0 deficit.
Each, interestingly, chose the other when asked who deserves the MVP award.
“Probably him. Judge,” Altuve said before Houston’s 2-1 victory in Game 1. “Because he hit a lot of home runs, a lot of RBIs. He got on base a lot and I like the way he plays. If I was a GM, I’d want him on my team because he plays the right way and he’s very humble.”
Altuve then went 3-for-4 with a run and a stolen base in that game.
“He’s showing people why he’s an MVP, what he did tonight,’’ Judge said afterward. “Getting on base, stealing bases, making good plays on defense. He was doing it all.”
That was the case in the first two games. Altuve went 5-for-8, coming all the way around from first base to score the winning run in Game 2 on Carlos Correa’s walk-off double. Judge went 1-for-7 with three strikeouts.
The numbers, and the series, changed dramatically when things shifted to Yankee Stadium. During the three-game sweep that put the Yankees ahead three games to two, Altuve went 0-for-10. Judge, who led the American League in homers (52), runs (128) and walks (127), was 4-for-9 with two homers, six RBIs and three walks.
Regarding the adjustments made by Judge, who hit a monstrous homer for the Yankees’ only run in Game 6, Girardi said it came down to “timing.”
“It’s a little bit of staying on the ball a little bit longer, those sort of things,” he said. “It’s also probably recognizing how they’re pitching you and what people are trying to do to you, and you have to adjust to that. And that’s a mental approach.”
That Altuve, who led the AL in hits (204) and batting average (.346), bounced back didn’t surprise his manager.
“His slumps aren’t even really slumps; they’re like bad days at work, you know?” A.J. Hinch said before Game 7. “And for him, we expect so much out of him, and to get the number of hits he gets, he’s not really allowed to have a 10- or 12-at-bat stretch where he doesn’t get hits. Obviously, the crowd buzzes when he comes up to bat, especially at our park. And there’s a lot of expectation on him to provide that spark. And last night he did. The two-run single off Severino was a collective exhale in the dugout . . . For those that have followed the Astros, we’ve seen this — we go as Altuve goes.”
Of course, even with the standout seasons by Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez and Severino, to name a few, the same has been said of Judge and the Yankees.
“I’ve talked about it all year long, that he is not just a hitter, he’s a complete player,” Girardi said. “He’s a great defender, he’s a great baserunner. And he does so many things right at an early age on a big stage, and just the way he handles all the attention simply amazes me. It’s as good as it gets.”