Altuve breaks out with 3 hits as Astros even World Series

HOUSTON (AP) — Jose Altuve was in vintage form Saturday night, collecting his third hit on a forehead-high fastball most wouldn’t even swing at.

The three-time batting champion chuckled after trotting to first base — a grin absent for much of this postseason, and a welcome sight for Astros fans.

For the first time in a sluggish October, Altuve looked like himself in Game 2 of the World Series. He had three hits, including a double, sparking Houston to a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies to even the Fall Classic.

“Boy, it was great to see,” manager Dusty Baker said. “All the guys on the team were extremely happy for him and for us to see him have that kind of game. Hopefully he can continue and start to roll the way Altuve can roll.”

The 2017 AL MVP had been curiously quiet this month, opening the playoffs with a career-worst 0-for-25 slump and entering Game 2 a paltry 4 for 37 this postseason.

The 5-foot-6 sparkplug poked fun at himself for the hack on the pitch way, way out of the zone.

“Obviously early in the playoffs I was swinging at everything and then getting slowly better at swinging at my pitch,” he said. “And, yeah, I got a hit on a pitch almost above my head today, but it’s a hit, so it’s good.”

Altuve was back in top form from the first pitch, smacking an offering from Zack Wheeler for a double to left field. He scored soon after that when Jeremy Peña, also swinging at the first pitch, followed with a double to send him home in a three-run inning.

Yordan Alvarez hit a third straight double after the ones by Altuve and Peña to make the Astros the first team in MLB history to open a World Series with three extra-base hits.

Alex Bregman, who had a two-run homer in the fifth, credited Altuve for the win.

“Well, this guy right here set the tone, and it was awesome,” he said pointing at Altuve, sitting next to him at the podium. “I feel like that one swing of the bat to start off the game got the crowd into it, got our dugout into it, got our offense going.”

Altuve singled in the fifth and then showed off his preternatural bat-to-ball skills in the seventh, slashing at the pitch above his eyes and smiling wide at first base.

Was that a sign he had more fun Saturday night than he had been having during his slump?

“Absolutely, especially because we were winning the game since first inning,” he said. “So winning is fun.”

Houston was happy to see that smile. Baker was asked before Saturday’s game if he could sense frustration with Altuve as he struggled at the plate.

“He can’t be happy, but he’s happy that we’re winning,” Baker said. “He might be the strongest dude in this building mentally. He’s probably had to be most of his life. So, I just know that any minute now, he’s one hit away from a hot streak.”

Despite Altuve’s struggles, the Astros have been nearly unstoppable this October. They swept their way through the Division Series and Championship Series, and Friday’s defeat was their first since Oct. 3.

“I think the boys made it a lot easier because we’ve been winning,” Altuve said.

It was a long-awaited sight for Astros fans who have come to expect big playoff performances from the little second baseman. Altuve ranks first in playoff franchise history with 99 hits and 23 homers, which are the second-most in MLB history behind Manny Ramirez (29).

Things weren’t completely smooth for Altuve on Saturday. There was a runner on first with two outs in the eighth when J.T. Realmuto hit a grounder that Peña fielded. Altuve ducked and turned away, thinking Peña was throwing to first. Instead, Peña tried flipping the ball to Altuve, and it rolled away to allow both runners to be safe. Peña was charged with an error.

It didn’t matter much, as Bryce Harper hit a pop fly to end the inning.

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