HOUSTON—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 yesterday 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 5'6” 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 post-season game, and first since Pablo Sandoval for the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 World Series opener against Detroit.
Babe Ruth did it twice.
“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 during 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?'”
And his thoughts after the third?
“I got to wake up,” he said, flashing a huge grin.
After he finished talking to Springer following his third shot, Altuve's teammates goaded him into exiting the dugout for a curtain call.
And as he tipped his hat to the crowd, one fan near the dugout held a sign that proclaimed in blue block letters: “That Kid Can Hit.”
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 post-season debut.
Game 2 goes today, with Dallas Keuchel starting for the Astros against Drew Pomeranz.
Among the shortest players in the majors, Altuve couldn't be a bigger leader for the Astros.
He's one of the few players remaining who languished through a rebuilding process that led to three-straight 100-loss seasons from 2011-13, and is perhaps the main reason this team ran away with the AL West title this year.
“First off, how good is Jose Altuve?” Astros' manager A.J. Hinch asked.
“It's incredible to watch him step up and be every bit the star that we needed today, for sure,” he noted.
“It's hard to describe in different ways.”
Cleveland blanked the N.Y. Yankees 4-0 in the opener of their ALDS last night.