HOUSTON — Jose Altuve is Aaron Judge’s biggest fan, except not literally. Altuve is 5-6, which is what makes his own outsized achievements that much more remarkable. He is such a dynamo that he is considered the leading candidate for the American League Most Valuable Player Award, except in his own eyes.
If he were voting, Altuve said his choice would be simple. “Probably him. Judge,” he said before his Astros defeated Aaron Judge’s Yankees, 2-1, in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night. “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.”
People who know Altuve say he was not just being polite. He just does things in a large way, including showering praise.
“Yet another reason why Jose Altuve is a perfect player. He’s humble in his own accomplishments and very complimentary of others,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. Then he added, “I will always back Jose Altuve, but I think in this regard I’ve got to tell him he’s wrong. Jose Altuve is the MVP.”
The better part of 43,116 supported Hinch’s claim — chanting “M-V-P!” every time Altuve came up — and so did the events of the game. He went 3-for-4, had a key stolen base, made a huge defensive play and essentially had an MVP night.
Game 1 backed the notion that Altuve has a certain “it” factor beyond the staggering statistics. He hit .346 in the regular season for his third league batting title and got the playoffs off to a smashing start with three home runs in ALDS Game 1 against Boston. He is batting .579 this postseason.
“He just does everything well,” said one of Altuve’s predecessors as Houston’s second baseman, Hall of Famer Craig Biggio. “And I think one of his strengths is that he doesn’t take anything for granted, he works hard and he’s humble.”
Justin Verlander, who will start Game 2 for the Astros on Saturday, thought he knew how good Altuve was when the righthander was with the Tigers and watched the second baseman blossom into an All-Star and 24-homer hitter. Then Verlander became Altuve’s teammate and raised his evaluation, as Tigers teammates always did with Miguel Cabrera (who has played basketball with Altuve in their hometown of Maracay, Venezuela).
“It never failed. They would come over and after a couple, two, three weeks, they would say, ‘Man, I knew he was good, but God, I didn’t know he was that good.’ That’s the same thing I’ve experienced with Altuve,” Verlander said.
Altuve, 27, is small enough physically and big enough emotionally to look up to the 6-7 Judge, two years his junior. The little second baseman was huge Friday night. You just didn’t hear it from him.
“Well, I’m hitting .000 for tomorrow,” he said. “I haven’t got a hit for tomorrow. Every day is a new day. If I helped my team to win today, that’s good, but tomorrow is another day.”
After the game, it was Judge’s turn to compliment his opponent. “He’s showing people why he’s an MVP, what he did tonight,’’ he said. “Getting on base, stealing bases, making good plays on defense. He was doing it all.”