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In the long history of American League playoff games, there had only been six instances of a player hitting three home runs in a game prior to Thursday. Babe Ruth did it twice and the rest of the list included two Hall of Famers (George Brett and Reggie Jackson), a future Hall of Famer (Adrian Beltre) … and Adam Kennedy, for some reason. Extreme outliers aside, it takes a great effort from a truly great player in order for it to happen.

You also don’t expect a great pitcher to fall victim to it. Even though Chris Sale hasn’t been the fire-breathing dragon who was running rampant across the AL for a couple of months now, it’s still natural to believe that he could find his form in time for the playoffs. That idea went out of the window in the very first inning, as Alex Bregman went deep to put the Astros on the board.

 

 

Little did we know at that time that Bregman’s homer was the spark that would ignite the flames that were resting inside of Jose Altuve’s bat. If you don’t believe me, then you’ll have to take Altuve’s word for it himself, as he told as much to Astros beat writer Brian McTaggart following the game.

 

 

And so Altuve’s amazing day at the plate began. In his first at-bat, Altuve hit Sale’s fastball 389 feet.

 

 

Altuve’s onslaught didn’t end there. With the Astros up 4-2 in the fifth inning, Altuve returned to face Sale for the second time. Sale tried to put another fastball past Altuve. This one was a little lower in the zone, but it may as well have been in the same place because Altuve hit it to nearly the exact same spot he’d hit the first home run.

 

 

There wouldn’t be a third encounter between Sale and Altuve, because Sale exited midway through the sixth inning. However, just because Sale was done that didn’t mean Altuve needed to stop laying the smackdown. If Altuve wasn’t the People’s Champion amongst the Houston faithful, he earned the title after he sent Austin Maddox’s changeup into the stratosphere in left field.

 

 

The homer put the cap on an excellent day of offense from Houston and a day that will be remembered forever in Astros history. There’s no better way to carve your name into the annals of October than to do so with a monster effort like the one Altuve displayed. Congratulations are in order for the diminutive-yet-powerful second baseman who has joined the ranks of the legendary hero Adam Kennedy (and Babe Ruth) when it comes to displays of power in October.

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There wasn’t much drama when it came to the result of the game itself. What was interesting (other than Altuve trying to pull off his best Mr. October impression) was how the Red Sox managed their pitching situation. Granted, this isn’t a one-off game like the Wild Card games, so we probably won’t see teams give the hook to their starters as quickly as we did earlier this week. Still, it was interesting to see Sale go as long as he did while the Astros were busy hitting the ball all over the place.

Sale didn’t receive the hook until after he’d given up a double and a walk to start the sixth inning, and Houston had already put up six runs on the board by then. John Farrell then decided to hand the ball to Joe Kelly. Kelly’s got fearsome velocity, but even with that velocity he’ll also go through stretches where he won’t miss bats. Sure enough, he gave up two hits during his stint in the seventh, which included Brian McCann looping one over Boston’s shift to make it 7-2 and basically put the game completely out of reach.

 

 

The rest of the day for Boston’s bullpen included Maddox becoming the answer to a future trivia question and Rick Porcello throwing an inning for reasons that are still unknown. Needless to say, this was nowhere near the masterclass of bullpen management and execution that we saw in the Bronx on Tuesday night. While the combination of a great day from Houston’s offense and a confident performance on the mound from Justin Verlander may have been too much for anybody to handle, this sure didn’t help matters.