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Jose Altuve certifies superstar status with historic performance in ALDS Game 1

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Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has a legitimate case to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award, which will be handed out after the postseason. He finished third in AL MVP Award balloting last year, has made five All-Star teams, won three Silver Sluggers, and won one Gold Glove.

One doesn’t necessarily need a breakout postseason performance to be classified among the game’s superstars, but it doesn’t hurt. Altuve hit three solo home runs in Thursday’s 8-2 victory over the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALDS, showing to a national audience what he is capable of doing.

It was just the 10th time since 1903 that a player homered three times in a postseason game. Babe Ruth did it twice in the World Series in 1926 and 1928. Bob Robertson did it in 1971, as did Reggie Jackson in 1977 and George Brett in 1978. In this millennium, that feat has been accomplished by Adam Kennedy in 2002, Adrian Beltre and Albert Pujols in 2011, and Pablo Sandoval in 2012. Lots of legendary names in that list.

Altuve hadn’t had any postseason success to his ledger prior to Thursday’s action. He went 1-for-4 with an RBI against the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game in 2015, then went 3-for-5 with three singles and an RBI in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Royals. Between Games 2 and 5 of that ALDS, he went 0-for-17 with a walk. In total, that’s a .154 batting average with zero extra-base hits over 26 at-bats.

Altuve was already doing things few players had ever done. He’s one of only 12 players to accrue at least 1,200 hits and 200 stolen bases through his age-27 season. The only players who did that in the 2000’s were Edgar Renteria, Carl Crawford, and Elvis Andrus. Altuve has won three batting titles and has accrued 200-plus hits in each of his last four seasons. If you’re a diehard baseball fan, you’re already well aware of Altuve’s batting prowess and Hall of Fame potential. To everyone else, though, Thursday was Altuve’s coming out party. He’s officially on the map.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).