The news on Saturday night, big news for one of the greatest little big men of them all, was that Jose Altuve had hit a home run in his fifth straight game, becoming the first player to do that this season. But the more important news, bigger news, is that Altuve is healthy again, and so in process of reminding everybody in baseball that when he is healthy he is on his way to being one of the best second basemen, and why he was the MVP of the American League not so very long ago. We always talk about Mike Trout. We spent a lot of last season talking about Mookie Betts, no giant himself, as he succeeded Altuve as AL MVP. It is still too easy sometimes to lose sight of Altuve.
Altuve suffered such a bad knee injury last summer, which sent him to what was then the DL and is now the IL. He was never the same after he came back, even though he kept playing, all the way through Game 5 of the AL Championship Series, when the Red Sox officially ended the Astros’ title defense. Even playing on one good leg, Altuve tried to make a huge swing in Game 4, hitting one over the right-field wall at Minute Maid Park before Betts tried to bring it back, and umpire Joe West finally did bring it back by ruling fan interference.
When the season ended, Altuve had surgery to repair what was officially called a patella avulsion fracture in his right knee. As his manager AJ Hinch said one day in Spring Training, on a back field at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, “The guy basically tried to play the second half of the season with a broken kneecap.”
After the surgery came all the winter mornings at Minute Maid Park, at least when Altuve was ready to rehab, when he would be in the fitness area at the ballpark, sometimes with his manager in the room with him, trying to get himself ready for the season; trying to get himself back to where and what he was when he beat out Aaron Judge for the MVP Award; trying to be the player he was when finishing off a rather epic four-year tear when he had 845 hits to lead the world, when he hit .341, .313, .338 and .346. Even last year, he ended up at .316 in what was, for him, a short and painful and ultimately disappointing season.