‘Mighty Mite’ Jose Altuve carries Astros on his back to World Series
Astros pitcher Justin Verlander may have been the MVP of the National League Championship Series, but no one was bigger than 5-foot-6 second baseman Jose Altuve, who has literally carried the team on his back during the playoffs.
In each of the Astros’ victories during the ALCS, the diminutive second-sacker played a key role in propelling the Astros to their first World Series appearance since 2005. But it should come as no surprise, since Altuve has been coming up big all season. He’s thought to be in a tight race for American League MVP during the regular season, where his main competition for the award is 6-foot-7 New York Yankee Aaron Judge. Ironically, Altuve’s performance dwarfed Judge’s in the playoffs. (Judge struck out 27 times in 52 plate appearances.) If the MVP voting were to occur after the playoffs (the award does not include post-season games), Altuve would be a sure cinch to win.
Altuve’s playoff highlight reel began in the Division Series against the Boston Red Sox. He gave a preview of his upcoming playoff performance in Game 1 against the Red Sox, when he smacked three home runs. He joined the company of elite sluggers Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson who had previously accomplished this feat in post-season games. In Game 2, he was intentionally walked twice by Red Sox hurlers, only to have them face clean-up hitter Carlos Correa. As singer Aretha Franklin would say, that’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” Altuve garnered 8 hits and 4 walks in 19 plate appearances for a slash line of .533/.632/1.133 during the four-game Series.
Against the Yankees in the ALCS, Altuve again managed to get 8 hits and 4 walks in 29 plate appearances. In the first two wins by the Astros, he collected 5 hits. In the Game 6 elimination game for the Astros, he hit another home run and drove in 3 of their 7 runs. He added one more home run, an opposite-field blast, in the deciding Game 7.
Since the Astros’ ownership dismantled the team in 2011 and essentially started over in its roster make-up, Altuve has been an indispensable element of the club’s resurgence to prominence. He led the way for the addition of other young newcomers, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, Alex Bregman, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance McCullers Jr., all of whom have made huge contributions.
Altuve is no stranger to collecting awards. He won his third batting title in 2017, hitting a career-high .346. In 2014, he led the league with a .341 average and hit .338 in last year. He has collected over 200 hits in his last four seasons. An all-around player, he has led the American League in stolen bases twice and has one Gold Glove Award in his trophy case.
There’s no denying the Astros’ acquisition of veteran Justin Verlander at the trade deadline was the missing piece of their puzzle to get them playoff-ready. His shutdown of the Yankees in two games of the ALCS was crucial to the Astros securing the World Series berth against the Los Angeles Dodgers. A similar performance by Verlander will be needed against the Dodgers.
But it’s a pretty good bet that Clayton Kershaw and the rest of the Dodgers’ pitching staff will be most wary of the little guy wearing Number 27, who has a way of coming up big when it counts.
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Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.