Yordan Alvarez’s walk-off home run for the Houston Astros ended a thrilling come-from-behind victory in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Tuesday, evoking memories of other spectacular blasts from the past that have occurred in October.
It came off the bat with the same fury and speed as Albert Pujols’ laser off Brad Lidge in the 2005 playoffs at Minute Maid Park. Since Joe Carter’s homer gave Toronto the 1993 World Series, no trailing club had hit a game-winning shot in regulation or the ninth inning.
Although the Astros’ 8-7 victory over the Seattle Mariners in the first round of the playoffs won’t go down in baseball lore, the 41,125 fans in attendance and the players and coaches on both teams (joyous on one side, stunned silence on the other) couldn’t help but be impressed by Alvarez’s performance.
To make matters worse, the Mariners, who are in the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, lost a lead that was quite similar to the one they had to overcome in Saturday’s wild-card triumph against Toronto. Houston’s seventh consecutive playoff-opening victory tied a major league record, and it was all thanks to a home run by Alvarez after a two-run homer by Alex Bregman in the eighth inning trimmed the margin to 7-3.
I don’t know what to say,” Alvarez remarked, “if you’re a fan of Houston and that didn’t get you pumped, get you heated.” “The other day, I was telling my wife about a person who was having a bad day until something minor happened to them. Things like that have the power to completely transform someone’s day.”
Yordan Alvarez is the greatest hitter in Major League baseball history. pic.twitter.com/Wsr7pJz8Ia
— Space City Sports (@LiveSCS) October 12, 2022
As enthusiastic as the Astros and fans were, all it took was one 93 mph sinker over the middle of the plate to completely ruin Seattle’s day. Mariners manager Scott Servais turned to lefty Robbie Ray to face lefty Alvarez after closer Paul Sewald allowed two bases to reach. Seattle intended to employ Ray in a relief capacity in Game 1 despite signing the reigning AL Cy Young champion to a $115 million free-agent deal last winter.
Alvarez isn’t your average fire. With no obvious platoon split and Ray’s propensity to give up home runs, Servais took a chance on the 25-year-old, who is one of the best hitters in baseball and hits third in Houston’s deadly lineup, and he lost.
The first pitch Ray threw at Alvarez was a sinker that clocked in at 94 miles per hour. The second one traveled 438 feet after bouncing off Alvarez’s bat at 117 mph and landed in the right field bleachers. Ray explained his intentions: “I was just trying to get the sinker in on him.” “Just couldn’t make it. Only annoyances.”
Ray insisted that he never once thought about intentionally walking or hitting Alvarez in order to load the bases. Sewald hit pinch hitter David Hensley with a full-count fastball, and the Mariners also lost Jeremy Pena when he hit a 1-2 slider that Sewald left over the plate and the youngster sent to center field. Next, Alvarez joined the scene.
“He didn’t miss it,” Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said. “Simply put, he has a powerful bat. I don’t think he’ll make that same mistake twice.”
When Jose Altuve blasted a home run to left field at Minute Maid in Game 162 of the 2019 American League Championship Series against New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, it was the winning run in a tie game. A game-winning home run in the ninth inning of a playoff game when down by many runs? Until Tuesday, this had never occurred.
It’s not unusual for the Astros to play in October. They have reached the ALCS five years in a row, and their 106 wins this season are the most in the American League and are very close to the franchise record. They are the odds-on favorites to win the pennant because of their strong starting rotation, deep bullpen, powerful lineup, and slick defense.
Of course, they weren’t anticipating their postseason run, to begin with, ace Justin Verlander, the favorite to win AL Cy Young this season, giving six runs on ten hits in just four innings. Seattle jumped on him early and often, scoring one in the first, three in the second, and two in the fourth thanks to a two-run home run from J.P. Crawford and a hot start from the Mariners’ top two hitters, Julio Rodriguez and Ty France, who each went 5 for 5.
The bullpen for Houston was able to shut down Seattle for the most part, giving the Astros’ offense a clear road to the plate. In the fourth inning, Yuli Gurriel hit a home run to trim the score to 6-3.
Bregman carried out his duties admirably in the eighth inning. And when Alvarez spotted Ray warming up, he pulled out his iPad and reviewed footage of his five previous at-bats against the 31-year-old, hoping to achieve the same results as he did in the regular season, when he hit.306/.406/.613 in 136 games.
According to Astros manager Dusty Baker, “the postseason is just an extension of the season, basically.” “His heart rate is probably pretty low. He doesn’t display excessive enthusiasm. He is focused, self-disciplined, and assured. When Yordan steps up to the plate, you know you have a shot, and it almost comes as a surprise when he doesn’t deliver. He’s not perfect, but he does a nice job most of the time.”
Convincing undercuts, natch Álvarez. He hit a two-run double in the third inning to get the Astros on the board first, and he drove in the game-winning run in the fifth inning on a sinker that didn’t sink when it was intended to, effectively ending Seattle’s initial attempt to overcome the Astros’ home-field advantage. Thursday, the Mariners’ prized trade deadline acquisition Luis Castillo will take the mound against Houston lefty Framber Valdez in Game 2.
Servais compared it to a “heavyweight fight.” “Someone is going to punch you. What matters most, and what’s challenging, is how you react in those situations. Just today, I was under the impression that we had everything under control. Give them some credit where credit is due. They’ve probably been here a million times before, yet they never give up.”