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NEW YORK (AP) — Jose Altuve is closing in on the American League batting crown, and he's not shy about his plan.
"I'm going to win it outside on the field, not sitting on the bench," he said.
That means he's playing all weekend — even if a day off might protect his lead.
Altuve hit a tying single in a three-run sixth inning and the Houston Astros beat the New York Mets 3-1 Friday night to reach 70 wins for the first time in four years.
"Big improvement from last year to this year," Altuve said. "Next year we're going to do even better and I think we can be in the playoffs."
The diminutive second baseman, generously listed at 5-foot-6, is trying to become the first Astros player to win a batting title. He went 1 for 4 and finished the night at .342, six points ahead of Detroit slugger Victor Martinez with two games left in the season.
"It would mean a lot to me," Altuve said. "But five, six points I think is nothing for Victor in two days."
Houston rallied against reliever Carlos Torres after Mets starter Jonathon Niese exited in the sixth with an elevated heart rate, a condition he's dealt with before. Robbie Grossman and Chris Carter doubled before Matt Dominguez capped the outburst with an RBI single.
New York's relay beat Altuve to the plate on Carter's double to deep left-center, but catcher Anthony Recker was charged with an error when he dropped the ball while attempting to apply a tag.
Kevin Chapman (2-0) got two outs, Tony Sipp tossed two perfect innings and the Astros (70-90) snapped a three-game skid by winning for the third time in 10 games. They reached 70 victories for the first time since winning 76 games in 2010.
"It just shows how far this team's come along in a year," Grossman said.
Houston locked up a fourth-place finish in the AL West, ahead of Texas. The Astros had finished last in their division three years in a row.
"It actually feels really good because everything is about improving and I definitely think we made an improvement this year," Sipp said.
Interim manager Tom Lawless echoed that sentiment.
"It means that we're going in the right direction," he said. "We're doing a lot of things right and if we continue on this program that we're on, we're going to be in the midst of things pretty soon."
Chad Qualls worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his 19th save.
Curtis Granderson hit his 20th homer for the Mets, already assured their sixth straight losing season since moving into Citi Field.
Astros starter Brad Peacock was trailing 1-0 when he was pulled in the fifth after 96 pitches.
Niese was working on a three-hit shutout when he ducked under a throw to second base by Recker in the sixth. The left-hander bent over to stretch his arms and back after the play, bringing trainer Ray Ramirez and manager Terry Collins out of the dugout.
Following a discussion on the mound, Niese walked off the field.
"I feel great," Niese said after the game. "It went away as soon as Terry and Rey got out there. But until then, it was kind of still racing."
Torres (8-6) was summoned and given all the time he needed to warm up. It didn't help.
Grossman switched from batting right-handed on one pitch to left-handed the next and promptly doubled to right field, sparking the rally.
"That was a little different," Grossman said. "I think it's the first time I've dealt with that."
Chapman walked his cousin, Matt den Dekker, in the sixth. The two were high school and college teammates (at Florida). Previously, they had only faced each other in spring training, with den Dekker hitting a triple and striking out twice.
Astros: Lawless said relievers Josh Fields and Darin Downs, both sidelined by oblique injuries, remain day to day. ... CF Dexter Fowler was checked by a trainer in the sixth after getting hit by a pitch on the right wrist. Fowler stayed in the game and made a sliding catch moments later with two runners on. "I think he'll be all right. It'll be a little stiff probably tonight. But I think we'll know more tomorrow," Lawless said. "We'll just see how he is tomorrow if he can swing the bat."
Lawless will formally interview for Houston's permanent managerial job with GM Jeff Luhnow on Saturday afternoon at Citi Field.
Mets rookie RHP Rafael Montero (1-3, 4.38 ERA) makes his eighth major league start Saturday night against Astros RHP Samuel Deduno (2-6, 4.66).
Mets relievers had thrown 20 1-3 consecutive scoreless innings before Torres gave up three runs — two earned — in 1 2-3 innings. The right-hander allowed only two earned runs in his previous 20 games covering 25 innings.
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Niese has yielded no more than three earned runs in 23 straight starts at Citi Field.
"I am kind of happy with how I finished," he said. "My arm didn't feel as strong as I wanted to, but that's something I will work on in the offseason."
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