NEW YORK — Every once in a while the planets align, giant Jupiter and tiny Mercury, and we get the two best players in the American League Championship Series at the same vector, in the same camera shot, near the same base, and we are left to remind ourselves for the millionth time that baseball is a wondrous game.

Aaron Judge, the New York Yankees’ rookie right fielder, will reach down – way down – and pat Jose Altuve, the Houston Astros’ second baseman, on the back, as he did Wednesday after an RBI double in the third inning, and the game will go on. But the wonder remains.

It is a wonder Judge and Altuve even play the same sport, let alone that they are two of its greatest practitioners – the leading candidates for AL Most Valuable Player this season and the engines of their teams’ offenses in the ALCS, a series the Yankees lead, 3-2.

Judge, 25, is a 6-foot-7, 280-pound mountain of muscle, the likes of which the sport never has seen, an NFL tight end in Yankee pinstripes, a slugger who set a rookie record this season with 52 home runs, including the longest and hardest-hit of the year. He’s a primary reason the Yankees stand one win away from the World Series, having gone 4 for 9 with two homers, two doubles and six RBI, and contributing a couple of dazzling defensive plays as the Yankees swept Games 3, 4 and 5 at home this week.

Altuve, meantime, is listed at 5-6, 165 pounds, but acknowledges he’s actually 5-5. A 27-year-old Venezuelan, he’s a wizard with both the bat and the glove, and a speeding blur on the bases, a three-time AL batting champ, the first player to lead his league in hits outright four straight seasons.

He hit three homers in Game 1 of the division series against Boston, joining a short list that includes Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols, of players who have done that in a postseason game – and almost single-handedly willed the Astros to victories over the Yankees in Games 1 and 2 in Houston, scoring the go-ahead runs in each with daring baserunning and robbing the Yankees of hits in the field.

“I don’t really care how tall he is, it’s his ability that speaks for itself,” Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said of Altuve. “He’s the most consistent player in the league, in a league that has elite performers anywhere. … Five-six, 6-6, 100 pounds, 200 pounds, 300 pounds – it’s more about what he does, not about the package it comes from.”

But if Judge and Altuve are the focal points of their lineups, the ones you never want to see at the plate at the biggest moments, they are also the largest black holes, sucking in their teams’ entire production when they disappear.

In the Yankees’ two losses in Houston, Judge went 1 for 7 with three strikeouts, leaving his postseason batting average to that point at .129 (4 for 31) with 19 strikeouts. In the Astros’ three losses in the Bronx, Altuve was 0 for 10 and scored just one run.

Jose Altuve’s father begged the Houston Astros to take a second look at his son following a tryout. Altuve ended up signing for all of $15,000.

Yankees Manager Joe Girardi suggested Altuve and Judge, as outliers by virtue of their sizes, can be victims of strike-zone biases on the part of home-plate umpires, with umpires calling strikes on Judge that are actually below his strike zone, and on Altuve on pitches that are actually high. Some advanced metrics back up that claim, with Judge, according to ESPN, ranking third in low strikes “framed against” – low balls that are called strikes.

“It’s part of what’s going to happen to him because he’s so tall,” Girardi said. “I think there are some pitches that were called on him during the series that haven’t necessarily been strikes. There’s a big difference between 1 and 1 (count) and 2 and 0, (or) 2 and 1. There’s a big difference in the way it changes an at-bat … If you’re an umpire that sees 500 pitches a week, in your mind you’re going to have an idea of what’s a strike and not a strike. And the rare bodies are the Altuves and the Judges. So a lot of times they might get more or (fewer) strikes called on them because (their strike zones are) different.”

To reach their current status, both Judge and Altuve had to overcome of built-in biases within the sport about their body types. Position players of Judge’s size rarely last in the majors, their strike zones too big, their swings too long. Players of Altuve’s size almost never make it to the big leagues, with 5-5 Freddie Patek, who retired in 1981, being the last.

When Altuve was 16, the Astros rejected him at a tryout because of his size, but Altuve’s father begged the team to give his son a second tryout, and the Astros eventually signed him for just $15,000. And despite hitting .327 with an .867 OPS in the minors, none of the leading prospect-ranking websites named him among the top 100 prospects in the game.

Even as he became one of the best hitters in the game, Altuve has had to deal with inherent doubts, puzzled looks, whispered jabs and even outright jokes about his size.

“I’ve had to battle for every single hit,” he once told “As soon as I cross the white line, I feel the same size as everyone else.”

As for Judge, despite his prodigious power and huge numbers at Fresno State, nearly every team passed over him until the Yankees took him with the 32nd pick of the 2010 draft – and even the Yankees passed over him once, taking a third baseman with the 26th pick.

He debuted in the majors last September with 42 strikeouts in 84 at-bats, and as recently as this March was still competing for a spot on the opening-day roster.

“There were a lot of unknowns,” Judge said of the spring-training roster battle. “There was talk of, ‘You’re going back to Triple-A,’ ‘You’re not going to be the starting right fielder,’ or, ‘Are we going to platoon you and some other outfielders?’

“I knew what I was capable of. I wanted to go out and prove it … The ups and downs, that’s baseball life. That’s what I live for, play for. To a certain extent I enjoy failure. It’s part of the game.”

There’s a mutual admiration between Judge and Altuve, born of the understanding that despite their obvious gifts, neither can do what the other does. They spoke at length at the All-Star Game in July and connected again in fleeting moments during the ALCS. They almost certainly will finish 1-2 in MVP voting when results are announced in November.

“He hits the ball way farther than anybody in the big leagues,” Altuve said. “He did everything to win the MVP in the regular season. But what I like the most about him is how humble he is. … If he wins the MVP, I think that it couldn’t happen to a better guy because he works really hard and I like the way he plays.”

Altuve might beat out Judge for the MVP award. He has a slight edge in wins above replacement, as calculated by, and had a more consistent season than Judge, who endured a much-examined two-month slump in the second half.

But when he gets around Judge, Altuve is just like the rest of us, gazing on in wonder at what the big man can do on a baseball field.

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