Altuve claims first batting crown in Astros history

Second baseman chooses to play in finale, goes 2-for-4 to secure AL title

Altuve claims first batting crown in Astros history

NEW YORK -- If you know anything about Jose Altuve, you weren't surprised he wound up wanting to play Sunday after originally being out of the lineup. And if you know anything else about Altuve, you weren't surprised to see him rise to the occasion.

Altuve, the Astros' 24-year-old energizing second baseman, capped off one of the greatest offensive seasons in club history Sunday afternoon by going 2-for-4 in an 8-3 season-ending loss to the Mets to win the American League batting crown -- the first time an Astros player has captured a title.

"That means a lot," Altuve said. "That's something I've been working for, and I'm trying to help my team every day. And to win a batting title and being the first one in franchise history is pretty exciting to me."

Altuve finished the season by leading the Major Leagues with 225 hits -- smashing Craig Biggio's franchise record of 210 -- and a .341 batting average, to go along with 47 doubles, 59 RBIs and 56 stolen bases, which led the AL. He led the Majors in average, multihit games and three-hit games.

"It's awesome," teammate Dexter Fowler said. "You see the guy and how hard he works and you see it paying off."

After the game, Astros teammates, coaches and staff gave Altuve a champagne toast in the clubhouse.

"I'm pretty excited, but what made me happier is all the support and the things my team has done for me," Altuve said. "After the game, they were happy for me and all came to me and said 'Congratulations,' and that made my season way better."

Astros hitting coach John Mallee laid out three goals for Altuve in Spring Training: become more disciplined in the strike zone, make the All-Star team and win a batting title. Check, check and check.

"That caps off [Altuve] as a person, the hard work he put in," Mallee said. "He went out and finished the job. He did it on the field."

The Astros had originally decided to keep Altuve out of the lineup Sunday -- with the second baseman's blessing -- to help protect his three-point lead over Detroit designated hitter Victor Martinez entering the game, but interim manager Tom Lawless said Altuve was called back into the office. There was a change of heart.

The team released a statement via Twitter about 30 minutes prior to the first pitch saying Altuve was playing.

"He wanted to play, he didn't want to play, he wanted to play, so we played him," Lawless said. "We decided to make the change and play him and whatever happened, happened. And it happened that with his two hits, he became the batting champion. It was a moot point what happened before."

Altuve would have won the batting title had he not played, because Martinez went 0-for-3 Sunday and finished at .335, but it was gratifying for Altuve to get two hits on the season's final day.

"This is way better just sitting on the bench and waiting for something," Altuve said.

After hitting into a double play in his first bat against Bartolo Colon, Altuve came up in the third and shot a ground-rule double into the gap in left-center, taking the pressure off of him and the Astros' dugout. The batting crown was pretty much locked up at that point.

"It's not easy when people come to you and say, 'You've got to win it, you've got to win it' and 'We trust you,'" Altuve said. "My teammates and coaches, they wanted me to win it and I did the best I can, and I did it."

For good measure, Altuve beat out an infield hit to score a run in the fifth for his 69th multihit game, extending his franchise record. The bat he used Sunday will be sent to Cooperstown and displayed in the Hall of Fame.

Altuve had the most hits by a second baseman in a single season since 1936, and he joined Joe Mauer (2006) and Alex Rodriguez (1996) as the only AL players 24-years-old or younger to win a batting title in the last 20 seasons.

"There was a lot of relief on [Altuve's] part, I know that," Lawless said. "A big [weight] came off his shoulders once he got that first hit and he threw another one in there, so that pretty much solidified his goal of being the American League batting champ. That's a goal that is a pretty prized possession."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.