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NEW YORK — Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros have grown together, enduring an arduous rebuild and coming out the other side among baseball’s best.
These days, nobody is standing taller.
Altuve won the American League MVP award Thursday, towering over New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge by a wide margin and capping Houston’s championship season with another piece of hardware.
Giancarlo Stanton won the NL MVP, edging Toronto-born Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds in the closest vote since 1979.
The 5-foot-6 Altuve drew 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“I was surprised that I won it,” Altuve said. “I wasn’t expecting this.”
It was a landslide long in the making. Altuve has been in Houston since general manager Jeff Luhnow took a scorched earth approach to developing a winner. The Astros lost 100-plus games in each of Altuve’s first three seasons, beginning in 2011.
Houston won its first World Series earlier this month, and it needed its longest-tenured player to get there. Altuve batted a major league-best .346 in the regular season, hit 24 home runs with 81 RBIs, scored 112 times, stole 32 bases and showed a sharp glove at second base. Voting for these honours was completed before the post-season began.
It’s been over a decade since Altuve signed with Houston from Venezuela — only after he was sent home from one tryout and told he was too short.
“They told me not to come back,” Altuve said. “It was something me and my dad, he went with me that day, we were like, ‘We have to go again. We have to try again.’”
“It’s not a rule that you have to be 6-foot or you have to be really strong to play baseball and become a good player,” he added.
Altuve beat out a player who couldn’t be more different. The 6-7 Judge won the AL Rookie of the Year award Monday after setting a rookie record with 52 home runs. Judge’s moonshot homers dominated the highlights, and his No. 99 jersey was the top seller in baseball. Even Altuve has said he would have voted for Judge.
Judge had 8.2 wins above replacement compared to Altuve’s 7.5, per Fangraphs, while baseball-reference.com’s WAR metric preferred Altuve 8.3 to 8.1. Yet Judge got only two first-place votes, with the other going to third-place finisher Jose Ramirez of the Indians.
Altuve was the second Houston player to win an MVP — Jeff Bagwell earned the 1994 NL award.
While Altuve is set to defend his title in Houston, Stanton may be taking a piece of Marlins history elsewhere. He earned the franchise’s first MVP in the same week new team executive Derek Jeter said the club is listening to trade offers for Stanton. The 28-year-old outfielder is owed $295 million over the final decade of his record $325 million, 13-year contract.
“It’s an interesting feeling and situation for me,” Stanton said.
Stanton would prefer to stick around and wants the team’s pitching situation “to be thoroughly addressed, not just somewhat addressed.” He’s not convinced the Marlins are ready to do that.
“I’m not entirely sure, to be honest,” he said. “I know all teams have plenty of money.”
The 6-6 Stanton led the big leagues with 59 home runs, most in the majors since 2001, when Barry Bonds hit a record 73 and Sammy Sosa had 64.
Stanton got 10 first-place votes and 302 points. Votto, who led the majors with a .454 on-base percentage, also got 10 firsts and had 300 points. Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt was third.
“I felt like it was going to be so close and I felt like I had a legitimate shot,” Votto said. “It just feels like it’s exactly kind of how I thought it would play out.”
The last time an MVP race was so close, Willie Stargell and Keith Hernandez tied for the NL prize in 1979.
Stanton became only the sixth player to win from a losing team. The Marlins were 77-85.
Stanton joins Dan Marino and LeBron James as the only Miami pro athletes in a major sport to win MVP.
“That’s definitely good company,” Stanton said.

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NEW YORK — Twelve minutes into Aaron Hicks’ return from 3 1/2 weeks on the disabled list, Tampa Bay had loaded the bases in the first inning when Wilson Ramos drove a changeup toward the Yankees’ bullpen in right-centre field.
“Oh, gosh,” New York rookie left-hander Jordan Montgomery thought to himself on the mound.
Hicks raced from centre to the 385-foot sign and leaped to get his glove above the wall. He snagged the ball in the webbing, squeezed it tight and limited Ramos to a sacrifice fly with his Hollywood grab.
After nearly falling behind on a grand slam, the playoff-bound Yankees beat the Rays 6-1 Tuesday night to clinch home-field advantage if they end up in the AL wild-card game next week.
“It was fun, fun to be able to do that,” said Hicks, who also robbed the Los Angeles Angels’ Luis Valbuena of a grand slam at Anaheim on June 14.
New York closed within three games of AL East-leading Boston with five remaining. If the Yankees and Red Sox finish even, they would play a tiebreaker game in New York on Monday, forcing difficult decisions on whether to use top pitchers.
“It becomes really complicated,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Tampa Bay (76-81) was eliminated from playoff contention and missed the post-season for the fourth straight year.
“It was kind of a slow death, which is not fun,” manager Kevin Cash said.
Montgomery (9-7) allowed singles to his first two batters and walked the next one before striking out Logan Morrison. Ramos thought he had his second slam in five days.
“I thought he hit it pretty well, but it just kind of died for me and gave me a great opportunity,” Hicks said.
Ramos expected the ball to carry in Yankee Stadium
“That was a homer. He jumped and he stole that,” he said.
Montgomery then fanned Adeiny Hechavarria to end the inning and didn’t allow another runner past second. Told his night was over after giving up six hits in six innings, Montgomery walked over to Hicks in the dugout and gave him a hug.
“Thanks for saving me,” Montgomery remembered saying.
Hicks strained his right oblique muscle June 25 on a checked swing against Texas and did not return until Aug. 10. He strained his left oblique at Boston on Sept. 2 when he reached up to make a running catch on the warning track of Hanley Ramirez’s drive.
He walked three times and struck out in the sixth, leaving him with a .264 average, 13 homers and 49 RBIs in 83 games. The great grab gave him confidence.
“It’s definitely a big test,” Hicks said. “I’m fully extended and I was able to make the catch and I felt good and the body feels good right now.”
Starlin Castro hit a 445-foot home run leading off a four-run second, and New York (88-69) won for the 17th time in 23 games to move 19 games over .500 for the first time since finishing 95-67 in 2012.
Blake Snell (4-7) walked Hicks and Aaron Judge with the bases loaded in the second, and Chaz Roe threw a run-scoring wild pitch . Gary Sanchez and Matt Holliday added RBI singles in the eighth.
In the shortest of his 42 big league starts, Snell failed to retire any of his six batters in the second inning and threw only 24 of 49 pitches for strikes.
“I just kept opening up and couldn’t make the adjustment to staying closed,” he said.
Hicks’ play had changed the game.
“Incredible,” Girardi said. “I was worried off the bat.”
WHOOPS
New York threw its 52nd wild pitch of the season with Sanchez behind the plate.
SEAT OF THEIR PANTS
New York’s David Robertson and the Rays’ Austin Pruitt both threw out batters while seated on the infield grass after slipping to field eighth-inning dribblers.
IN THE MONEY
Ramos started his 55th game at catcher, triggering a rise in his salary next year from $8.5 million to $10.5 million as long as he doesn’t finish the season on the disabled list because of a right knee injury. If he starts the five remaining games, his salary would rise by an additional $250,000.
“I feel excited because I’m healthy and catching a lot and that’s my job,” he said.
LOOKING ON
Retired heavyweight champion Mike Tyson was on the field during batting practice.
TRAINER’S ROOM
Rays: RHP Alex Cobb won’t pitch again this season because of workload.
Yankees: RHP Adam Warren, who hasn’t pitched since Sept. 1 because of a lower back spasm, tossed a two-inning simulated game and could be activated this week.
UP NEXT
RHP Luis Severino (13-6) starts for the Yankees on Wednesday in what could be his last appearance before the playoffs. RHP Matt Andriese (5-4) goes for the Rays.