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Jose Altuve was the key in Astros’ ALCS victory

Astros second baseman Jose Altuve after hitting a

Astros second baseman Jose Altuve after hitting a solo home run during Game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Oct. 21, 2017. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

HOUSTON — For a good while now, it has been clear that the Astros’ universe revolves around Jose Altuve. So it was on the field at Minute Maid Park on Saturday night as the little second baseman was in the middle of a celebration by a team he had led to the AL pennant.

Altuve, serenaded for weeks by chants of “MVP!” in support of his strong candidacy for the AL’s Most Valuable Player award, was the pivotal player as his team beat the Yankees in seven games to reach the World Series.

The eight days heading into Game 7 Saturday night were a celebration of the American League’s top two players, Altuve and Aaron Judge, just as each team had hoped and expected. Altuve came out on top. “It’s a beautiful series,” Altuve said late Friday night, “because every single game was right there.”

Just about every time something turned out well for the Astros, it was Altuve who was right there. He made two sterling defensive plays from short rightfield, both on long grounders by Chase Headley and the latter coming with two runners on and the Astros up 1-0.

He sparked a three-run fifth inning by hitting a home run that got beyond the reach of Judge, which had proved difficult to do lately. It was Altuve’s fifth home run of the playoffs, each of them having put a charge into the Astros and their fans.

“For those who have followed the Astros, we’ve seen this: We go as Altuve goes,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “We’ve been able to build a team around him that had multiple options, that maybe somebody else could pick up the slack if he decides not to get a hit for some reason. But there’s no doubt that when he has good games, it’s hard to beat the Astros.”

Evan Gattis, whose home run in the fourth inning was the deciding run, said: “Altuve is probably the best baseball player I’ve ever been able to play with. I just don’t get surprised with him anymore. Yeah, I do.”

To be sure, there were other significant contributors in Game 7, beginning with starting pitcher Charlie Morton. A Yankees fan from Connecticut whose dad grew up in Syosset, Morton pitched the game of his life with five scoreless innings.

Altuve showed that he can handle success, having said after Game 1, when he was batting .549 for the postseason, “I’m hitting zero for tomorrow. I haven’t got a hit tomorrow.” Then he kept his head up when he literally batted zero (0-for-10) during three games in New York. He was somewhat apologetic for being so demonstrative during Game 6. He was consistently complimentary of others, having said before Game 1 that if he were a voter, he would choose Judge as the league’s MVP.

In an interview on the field after Justin Verlander pitched the Astros to a Game 6 victory, Altuve said, “I literally love Justin Verlander.”

Later that night, Verlander returned the favor, going on Twitter and writing, “I literally love you too, @JoseAltuve27.”

That has become a very widespread sentiment in Houston.

New York Sports