HOUSTON — Jose Altuve had just entered 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 Boston 8-2 in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
Buoyed by chants of "MVP" in each trip to the plate, Altuve, generously listed on the roster at 5 feet 6, hit solo homers in the first and fifth innings off Sale. He connected again in the seventh off reliever Austin Maddox.
"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. 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 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.
Sale never got into a rhythm and was chased with no outs in the sixth. The left-hander was tagged for nine hits and matched a season-high seven runs. "Never really gave my team a chance to win. Put them in a hole early," Sale said.
Decisions, decisions, LeBron
LeBron James hasn't had to make a decision this big in years. The NBA star attended the Yankees-Indians playoff game along with his Cavaliers teammates. Back in 2007, James came to Progressive Field for a postseason game wearing a Yankees cap, which he flaunted during the game. He was widely criticized in Cleveland for the move, which came three years before his infamous decision to announce he was leaving as a free agent for Miami. James rooted openly in the playoffs last year for the Indians, speaking to the crowd before one game and flexing for fans in Game 7 of the World Series. Manager Terry Francona was reminded that James once pulled for the other side. "I had not remembered that, but I do now," Francona said, smiling before the series opener. "I'm hopeful that he won't be (cheering for the Yankees)." Wearing a red hooded sweat shirt, James arrived about 30 minutes before the first pitch.
Cubs gets Strasburg in Game 1
Stephen Strasburg will start Game 1 of the Nationals' NL Division Series tonight against the visiting Cubs, manager Dusty Baker announced, and two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer might not pitch before Game 3. Scherzer tweaked his right hamstring during his last regular-season start. The Cubs already announced their pitching plans: Kyle Hendricks in Game 1, Jon Lester in Game 2 and Jose Quintana in Game 3.
. Diamondbacks coach Ariel Prieto said it was a mistake to wear an Apple Watch in the dugout during Wednesday's NL wild-card game against the Rockies. Prieto said he didn't use it for any illicit purpose and that it was on "airplane mode" during the game, which shuts off the watch's communication abilities. Last month, the Red Sox were fined by MLB for using an Apple Watch to relay signs to hitters.
. Taijuan Walker will start Arizona's NLDS opener tonight against the host Dodgers after the craziness of the Diamondbacks' wild-card game depleted their pitching staff. Los Angles is starting Clayton Kershaw.