By HAL McCOY
The Littlest Man in Minute Maid Park, the littlest man in major league baseball, was the biggest man in Houston Friday night in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
The Houston Astros list second baseman Jose Altuve as 5-foot-6, but they must have measured him while he was standing on a dozen copies of The Official Rules of Baseball.
Altuve had three hits, stole a base and made a sterling defensive play while leading the Houston Astros to a 2-1 victory over the New York Yankees.
And the man with the ugliest and biggest beard in baseball, Dallas Keuchel, put duct tape around the Yankees bats with seven scoreless innings, holding them to four hits while walking one and striking out 10.
With a capacity crowd in Minute Maid Park howling, “MVP, MVP, MVP,” every time Altuve twitched a muscle, the diminutive second baseman ignited the rally in the fourth inning that produced both Astros runs.
With one out, Altuve banged a hard ground ball up the middle and beat it for an infield hit. Yankees starter Mashahiro Tanaka made three straight throws to first base to hold Altuve on. When he threw home Altuve took off and stole second.
He scored when shortstop Carlos Correa singled sharply to left field. Marvin Gonzalez grounded to second and Correa took third. With two outs, Yuli Gurriel singled to center to make it 2-0.
And that’s the way it stayed and stayed and stayed until two outs in the ninth inning. New York’s Greg Bird hit a monster home run off the top of the right field foul pole against closer Ken Giles.
Before the home run, Giles had struck out Didi Gregorius to end the eighth with two runners on base and struck out the first two in the ninth, Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks.
Bird homered to cut it to 2-1, but Giles struck out Jacoby Ellsbury to end it. The Ellsbury strikeout came on the 37th pitch thrown by Giles, Houston’s closer, the most pitches he has thrown in a game this season.
He entered with one out in the eighth and gave up a walk and Bird’s home run, but struck out four of the five outs he recorded.
Other than the fourth inning, during which he gave up two runs and three hits, Yankees starter Tanaka was nearly as good as Kuechel — six innings, two runs, four hits.
The Yankees advanced only one runner past first base in Keuchel’s seven innings and that was in the fifth. He was saved the inning by a throw from left fielder Marvin Gonzalez.
Bird, who had two of New York’s five hits, singled to start the fifth. Matt Holliday then reached on a rare error by Altuve, putting runners on second and first with no outs.
Keuchel nearly pitched out of it, getting Todd Frazier on a fly to center and striking out Brett Gardner.
That brought up Aaron Judge, who broke the major league record for home runs by a rookie with 52. But during the Yankees five-game American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians Judge was 1 for 20 with 16 strikeouts.
And Keuchel struck him out on his previous at bat. This time, though, Judge drilled a 3-and-2 pitch into left field for a single.
Bird tried to score from second but Gonzalez unleashed a perfect peg to Brian McCann and the former Yankees catcher now employed by the Astros applied the tag. The Yankees asked for a review and the out was upheld, ending the inning and the Yankees never threatened again.
That set the table for another pitching duel in Game 2 Saturday night, Houston’s Justin Verlander against New York’s Luis Severino. Verlander finished the season 7-and-0 after the Astros acquired him from the Detroit Tigers.