Astros toast Altuve's inevitable batting title

Second baseman enters final day with insurmountable 18-point lead at .338

Astros toast Altuve's inevitable batting title

ANAHEIM -- Jose Altuve's second American League batting title in three years was a cause for celebration for the Astros, who held a champagne toast for their All-Star and all-everything second baseman in the clubhouse following Saturday night's 3-0 win over the Angels at Angel Stadium in the penultimate game of the 2016 season.

Altuve went 2-for-4 to raise his average to .338, far out of the reach of Red Sox teammates Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia -- both of whom are hitting .320 entering the final day of the season. Altuve won the 2014 batting title after hitting .341.

This is the first year that the batting crown comes with a trophy. It was announced at this year's All-Star Game that the AL player with the highest average would be the Rod Carew American League batting champion. The National League award was named after Tony Gwynn. The Rockies' DJ LeMahieu (.348) held a slim advantage over the Nats' Daniel Murphy (.347) to claim the NL batting title heading into Sunday's action.

"I wanted to make sure that he got recognized in front of our team," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Very rarely do you get a batting champion in front of you. He's been excellent all season. The team was excited to celebrate him, so we raised a glass to a really remarkable season that continues and can get even better tomorrow. But even if it stops, it's one of the best seasons I've been around."

Altuve's 30th stolen base

As usual, Altuve credited his teammates with helping him reach the milestone.

"It's great," Altuve said. "I feel really happy. I think I have to thank all the guys on the team. They really made my job easier this year -- Georgie [Springer], Carlos [Correa], Marwin [Gonzalez] -- every single guy that was in the lineup did something to help me win the batting title.

"The way that these guys played this year, they went outside to the field and played hard, and that kind of encouraged me and pushed me to keep playing hard every day. It's really fun to play on a team like this. We're out of the playoffs, but it was a great season, a winning season. We know what we've got here and we're going to come back next year and I know we're going to make it."

Altuve, who is one of the front-runners for the AL Most Valuable Player Award, is perhaps the most popular player in the Astros' clubhouse, so his teammates were on board with toasting him.

"Coming into this season, he had a plan and executed well and did it every day," outfielder Jake Marisnick said. "Every day you come in, being one of the young guys, you get a chance to see him how he goes about his business every day and how he works. It's awesome. We're all pretty pumped for him."

Hinch said Altuve asked to be in the lineup for Sunday's season finale because he's still chasing some milestones. His 215 hits lead Betts by one for the Major League lead. He'll be at designated hitter Sunday.

"He wants to play," Hinch said. "He's got some goals in mind that he's not yet accomplished. He sees all sorts of numbers that he can get and make a special year even more special. He asked me to stay in there tomorrow. I'll DH him. When Altuve is zeroing in on a few things, he rarely gets denied. It won't surprise me if he has a good day tomorrow."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.