BOSTON (AP) — Jose Altuve ran away with the AL batting title.
The AL West race wasn’t any closer.
Altuve coasted to his third AL batting crown despite going hitless in two at-bats and the Houston Astros rallied for their 101st win on Sunday, cruising into the playoffs with a 4-3 victory over Boston in a preview of the Division Series matchup.
“This is the first time I’ve won a batting title and the team’s going to go to the playoffs,” said Altuve, who is also among the favorites for the AL MVP.
“I think every single player in the big leagues, after they win a World Series, would like to win an MVP. That would make me really proud. But to me we’re still in the middle of the season and haven’t done what we want to do.”
The Astros posted their best record since earning 102 victories in 1998, winning the division by 21 games over the second-place Los Angeles Angels. The best-of-five ALDS against Boston begins Thursday in Houston.
Altuve finished the season with a .346 average to easily win the batting title over Avasail Garcia of the Chicago White Sox; Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon was the best in the NL, at .331. The Astros second baseman is the third right-handed hitter since 1900 to win three or more batting titles.
“He’s just been consistent,” Astros starter Collin McHugh (5-2) said. “He’s as consistent a player as there is in major league baseball.”
One day after the Red Sox won to clinch the first back-to-back AL East titles in franchise history, the teams used lineups filled largely with backups. Houston had already replaced starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel with McHugh, and Boston manager John Farrell scratched ace Chris Sale after Saturday’s win so he could rest up for the playoffs.
The Astros scored four times in the seventh inning to rally from a three-run deficit. Yuli Gurriel had two doubles and the go-ahead sacrifice fly for Houston, which won the four-game series 3-1 and took the season series against Boston 4-3.
McHugh pitched six innings, allowing three runs to improve to 16-0 in September and October since 2014. Tyler Clippard pitched the ninth for his fifth save for Houston.
“Obviously, we’ve got a glut of great pitchers to choose from,” McHugh said. “I want to pitch. I’m up for pitching. However innings get doled out, I want some.”
The Astros started four regulars, and the Red Sox started two.
“We had planned to give a number of guys a day off after we did clinch,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “But you’re still looking to evaluate all the way through the final out. … While it might have been a little bit more relaxing, you’re still going out to try and compete and try to win a ballgame.”
HOW THEY SCORED
The Red Sox got three in the fourth against McHugh when rookie Rafael Devers hit a two-run double, advanced on a single and scored on a passed ball.
Boston took a 3-0 lead into the seventh, when the first two batters reached to chase Brandon Workman, and then Fernando Abad (2-1) gave up RBI singles to Juan Centeno, Colin Moran and Tony Kemp. Gurriel’s sacrifice fly broke the 3-3 tie.
The Red Sox had not finished first in consecutive years since winning the pennant (and World Series) in the division-less AL in 1915-16. … The Red Sox matched last year’s total of 93 wins. Farrell is the only manager ever to lead the Red Sox to three first-place finishes.
GETTING THEIR WORK IN
With three off days before the start of the playoffs, Astros pitcher Justin Verlander threw in the bullpen after Saturday’s game to get his work in. Keuchel preferred to face live batters, manager A.J. Hinch said, and threw from the Fenway mound before Sunday’s game.
Astros: OF Josh Reddick was seen by the trainer and should be able to work out on Tuesday, Hinch said. “If he can get a couple of good workouts in, he’ll be available on Thursday,” Hinch said. “The health part of it will be answered by then.”
Red Sox: 2B Dustin Pedroia sat out his second straight game to rest a sore left knee.
The teams begin the ALDS on Thursday, time and pitchers TBA. … The last teams to play each other in a regular-season finale and then in a postseason opener were the 2013 Reds and Pirates.
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