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Astros change course, put Altuve back in lineup


NEW YORK (AP) In a bizarre twist before the season finale, Jose Altuve was a late addition to the Houston Astros' lineup Sunday after the team reversed course on its original decision to bench him - against his wishes - in an attempt to protect his lead in the American League batting race.

Hoping to become the first Astros player to win a batting title, Altuve entered the final day of the season with a .340 average, three points ahead of Detroit slugger Victor Martinez.

Altuve pledged Friday night that he would play all weekend against the New York Mets, saying he would ''win it outside on the field, not sitting on the bench.''

But the All-Star second baseman said he was told Sunday morning he would not be in the lineup during a meeting with general manager Jeff Luhnow, interim manager Tom Lawless, assistant GM David Stearns and hitting coach John Mallee.

''I came to the park today ready to play. You know, they called me in the office, explained everything. They let me know it's something that I'm not going to get by myself. There's a lot of people around who deserve that, too. And they just decided, don't put me in the lineup,'' Altuve said. ''I wanted to play, but it wasn't an option. They just said no.''

Luhnow told The Associated Press that Altuve had ''earned the right to enjoy this day.''

''This has been a long season, he's had a ton of at-bats and we felt like it was the right thing to do under the circumstance,'' the GM said.

But then, about 35 minutes before the game, the Astros posted on Twitter that Altuve had been inserted in the starting lineup. A little while after that, the change was announced in the press box.

''Altuve approached Lawless prior to today's game and was passionate about playing today,'' the team tweeted. ''As the best player, he deserves the right to make that decision.''

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The diminutive Altuve, who said he is completely healthy, had two hits in his first three at-bats to raise his average to .341.

Martinez was hitless in his first two at-bats Sunday, dropping him to .336.

It is not unheard of for players to skip the last game or few games of a season to safeguard their stats - and sometimes that raises eyebrows.

Jose Reyes and the Mets were criticized three years ago when, in order to preserve his NL batting crown, he was pulled from his final game with the team after a bunt single leading off the first inning.

Ted Williams famously played both ends of a season-ending doubleheader in 1941 rather than sit out to protect his .400 batting average. Williams went 6 for 8 to finish at .406 and was the last major leaguer to hit .400.

Before the Astros changed course, Lawless said there was no shame in holding out Altuve.

''Once he sat down in there and we all talked about it, he's OK with it, is the best way to put it,'' Lawless said. ''What's not honorable? He's played 157 games. He's got 640 at-bats. He's got way more at-bats than everybody else. It just boils down to, it is what it is. You know, it's something that may never happen again in his life, so why not do it this way?''

Martinez could get an extra chance to pass Altuve if the Tigers lose to Minnesota on Sunday and Kansas City beats the Chicago White Sox. That would set up a tiebreaker for the AL Central title Monday, giving Martinez another regular-season game to boost his batting average.

If Altuve had sat out, Martinez would have needed to go 3 for 3 to move ahead on Sunday.