By KRISTIE RIEKEN/AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) – Jose Altuve hit three home runs in an unprecedented show of power for the diminutive major league batting champion as the Houston Astros roughed up Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox 8-2 Thursday in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
Buoyed by chants of “MVP” in each trip to the plate, the 5-foot-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.
It was just the 10th time a player hit three homers in a postseason game.
Despite his size, 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 biggest reason this team ran away with the AL West title this year.
Justin Verlander pitched six effective innings to remain unbeaten since Houston got him in late trade with Detroit. Sale, the major league strikeout leader, was tagged for seven runs in five-plus innings of his postseason debut.
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