HOUSTON (AP) — Jose Altuve had just arrived in the Astros dugout after launching his third home run of the game when George Springer grabbed his right biceps and examined it, as if searching for an explanation for his teammate’s extraordinary pop.
“He makes sure he stays on top of his gym routine, whatever it is,” Springer said. “The dude is just a joke.”
The major league batting champion put on an unprecedented show of power Thursday as Houston roughed up Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox 8-2 in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
Buoyed by chants of “MVP” in each trip to the plate, the 5-foot-6 Altuve hit solo homers in the first and fifth innings off Sale. He connected again in the seventh off reliever Austin Maddox to give Houston a quick boost in the best-of-five series.
“As soon as I cross the white line, I feel the same size as everyone else,” Altuve said.
It was just the 10th time a player hit three homers in a postseason game, and first since Pablo Sandoval for the Giants in the 2012 World Series opener against Detroit.
“I told him the last time I’ve seen three home runs in a game was Pablo Sandoval and I gave up two of them, so I’m glad there’s somebody new that’s done it,” winning pitcher Justin Verlander said.
Altuve became the first Astros player to hit three homers in one game since 2007, when Carlos Lee did it in the regular season. He seemed as surprised as anyone else that he was now in a category with the Sultan of Swat, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols.
“I hit one and I was like: ‘Wow,’” he said. “And the second one is like: ‘Wow, what’s going on here?”
Verlander pitched six effective innings and improved to 6-0 since Houston got him in late trade with Detroit. He is 5-0 with a 2.24 ERA in nine career starts in the division series.
Sale, the major league strikeout leader, was tagged for seven runs in five-plus innings of his postseason debut.
Game 2 is Friday, with Dallas Keuchel starting for the Astros against Drew Pomeranz.
Altuve hit .346 this year, his fourth straight 200-hit season. He had 24 home runs this year — this was his third career multihomer game.