Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros have grown together, enduring an arduous rebuild and coming out the other side among baseball's best.
These days, nobody is standing taller.
Altuve won the American League MVP award Thursday, towering over New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge by a wide margin and capping Houston's championship season with another piece of hardware.
Giancarlo Stanton won the NL MVP, edging Toronto-born Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds in the closest vote since 1979.
The 5-foot-6 Altuve drew 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"I was surprised that I won it," Altuve said. "I wasn't expecting this."
It was a landslide long in the making. Altuve has been in Houston since general manager Jeff Luhnow took a scorched earth approach to developing a winner. The Astros lost 100-plus games in each of Altuve's first three seasons, beginning in 2011.
Houston won its first World Series earlier this month, and it needed its longest-tenured player to get there. Altuve batted a major league-best .346 in the regular season, hit 24 home runs with 81 RBIs, scored 112 times, stole 32 bases and showed a sharp glove at second base. Voting for these honours was completed before the post-season began.
It's been over a decade since Altuve signed with Houston from Venezuela – only after he was sent home from one tryout and told he was too short.
"They told me not to come back," Altuve said. "It was something me and my dad, he went with me that day, we were like, 'We have to go again. We have to try again."' "It's not a rule that you have to be 6-foot or you have to be really strong to play baseball and become a good player," he added.
Altuve beat out a player who couldn't be more different. The 6-7 Judge won the AL Rookie of the Year award Monday after setting a rookie record with 52 home runs. Judge's moonshot homers dominated the highlights, and his No. 99 jersey was the top seller in baseball. Even Altuve has said he would have voted for Judge.
Judge had 8.2 wins above replacement compared to Altuve's 7.5, per Fangraphs, while baseball-reference.com's WAR metric preferred Altuve 8.3 to 8.1. Yet Judge got only two first-place votes, with the other going to third-place finisher Jose Ramirez of the Indians.
Altuve was the second Houston player to win an MVP – Jeff Bagwell earned the 1994 NL award.
While Altuve is set to defend his title in Houston, Stanton may be taking a piece of Marlins history elsewhere. He earned the franchise's first MVP in the same week new team executive Derek Jeter said the club is listening to trade offers for Stanton. The 28-year-old outfielder is owed $295-million over the final decade of his record $325-million, 13-year contract.
"It's an interesting feeling and situation for me," Stanton said.
Stanton would prefer to stick around and wants the team's pitching situation "to be thoroughly addressed, not just somewhat addressed." He's not convinced the Marlins are ready to do that.
"I'm not entirely sure, to be honest," he said. "I know all teams have plenty of money."
The 6-6 Stanton led the big leagues with 59 home runs, most in the majors since 2001, when Barry Bonds hit a record 73 and Sammy Sosa had 64.
Stanton got 10 first-place votes and 302 points. Votto, who led the majors with a .454 on-base percentage, also got 10 firsts and had 300 points. Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt was third.
"I felt like it was going to be so close and I felt like I had a legitimate shot," Votto said. "It just feels like it's exactly kind of how I thought it would play out."
The last time an MVP race was so close, Willie Stargell and Keith Hernandez tied for the NL prize in 1979.
Stanton became only the sixth player to win from a losing team. The Marlins were 77-85.
Stanton joins Dan Marino and LeBron James as the only Miami pro athletes in a major sport to win MVP.
"That's definitely good company," Stanton said.