ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jose Altuve became the seventh player in baseball history to play in 100 career postseason games Thursday night, a product of additional rounds but also, mostly, an indication of the Houston Astros' prolonged success.
His biggest lesson from that time?
"That in the playoffs, a lot of things can happen," Altuve said.
The volatility is especially true now. The Astros dropped both games at home to begin this year's American League Championship Series, spoiling a multitude of opportunities to drive in runs and making it seem as if they were no match for the scorching-hot Texas Rangers. The Astros had reached this round for the seventh consecutive time and won the World Series only a year earlier, but suddenly it felt as if they had run out of gas.
Then they went on the road and scored a combined 18 runs in 18 innings, tying the ALCS at two games apiece and placing the home-field advantage back in their favor.
Their latest victory, a 10-3 drubbing in Game 4 at Globe Life Park, saw Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Jose Abreu combine to drive in eight runs from the middle of the lineup. But it also saw Altuve set the tone with three hits from the very top, the type of spark he has provided over nearly an entire season's worth of games in October.
"It's been an honor to be his teammate -- a Hall of Fame player and a Hall of Fame person, incredible leader every single day," said Bregman, Altuve's teammate over the past seven years. "From Day 1 of spring training, he shows up, works his tail off. He always has a smile on his face. He's so nice to everyone that he comes into contact with -- players, coaches, staff, people at the stadium, fans. He's an unbelievable human being, and to be able to be his teammate, it's been an honor. Hopefully I can be his teammate forever."
Altuve turned on the game's third pitch, a changeup near the middle of the strike zone from Rangers left-hander Andrew Heaney, and lined it down the third-base line for a leadoff double, later scoring on Bregman's two-run triple. The Astros scored three runs before recording the game's first out.
After the Rangers came back to tie the score on Corey Seager's solo home run in the third, the Astros answered with a four-run fourth inning. They loaded the bases with none out against Dane Dunning -- on back-to-back walks from Martin Maldonado and Altuve and a single from Mauricio Dubon -- then scored on a 401-foot sacrifice fly from Alvarez and a 438-foot three-run homer from Abreu. In the eighth, with the game practically out of reach, Altuve hit a deep line drive to left that was initially ruled a home run but was reversed to a double after umpires consulted with replay.
It gave him 10 career three-hit games in the postseason, tied with former teammate Carlos Correa for third all time. The only ones ahead of them are longtime New York Yankees Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter with 12 apiece. A few more inches, and Altuve would have had his 26th career postseason home run. Only Manny Ramirez (29) produced more.
Altuve, 33, joined Jeter, Williams, Ramirez, Jorge Posada, David Justice and Yadier Molina as the only players to reach 100 career postseason games. Astros outfielder Chas McCormick, who also homered in Game 4, saw a similar stat on social media recently and could only shake his head.
"Just insane," he said.
McCormick began his climb up the Astros' minor league system when the big league team won its first World Series championship in 2017, a title later tainted by the sign-stealing scandal. As the team began its prolonged run of success, McCormick could only hope the contention window lasted long enough for him to contribute to it. He is now nearing the end of his third major league season, and there is no sign of the window closing any time soon.
Altuve is very much the face of that.
"He's been the one who's kept the window open," McCormick said. "We've lost some great players."
Altuve went 0-for-8 in the Astros' two losses from Houston but has gone 5-for-9 in their two victories in Arlington, Texas, which is probably no coincidence.
He planned to keep the jersey from Thursday's game and will perhaps eventually frame it -- but his mind is elsewhere right now.
"Obviously it means a lot. It means the team's been having success in the last years," Altuve said of his 100th postseason game. "But I think the whole focus I have right now is about winning tomorrow."