HOUSTON (AP) — With every big swing, Yordan Alvarez owns this October
A fierce comeback for the power hitter who struggled in Houston’s loss to the Atlanta Braves in last year’s World Series.
Alvarez and his mighty bat did it again, hitting a two-run sixth-inning homer off Seattle ace Luis Castillo that lifted the Astros over the Mariners 4-2 on Thursday for a 2-0 lead in the AL Divisional Series.
“I call her Grande,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He rides big. We love having it on the plate. He likes to be in the big moment. His focus and discipline are way ahead of his age.”
The performance comes after he went just .100 (2 for 20) with no home runs and six strikeouts as Houston lost the World Series in six games.
With all of baseball talking about his hits, the 25-year-old was asked how he would describe himself at home plate.
“I would say smart,” he said in Spanish through a translator. “Every time I go up to home plate, I try to visualize the different kinds of results I could get up there when I hit. If everything goes as planned, we will get a positive result.
He’s had plenty of that in the playoffs already.
Alvarez was the star of Game 1 with his punch and three-pointer against defending AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray with two ninth-inning strikeouts that gave the Astros an 8-7 victory in a match where they had trailed by four. .
Castillo, acquired from the Reds near the trade deadline and after 7 1/3 shutout innings against Toronto in the wild-card round, gave up a home run to Kyle Tucker but nothing else as he took a 2-1 lead. in the sixth.
But with two out, Jeremy Peña picked a simple blooper that fell between second baseman Adam Frazier and center fielder Julio Rodríguez. Castillo leaned over and kicked his legs in disappointment as he watched the ball drop into a shallow cross.
“We just need to communicate a little better,” Frazier said.
That brought Alvarez, who hit a 98 mph pitch following the opposite court, into the small left porch to put the Astros up 3-2.
“He threw a ball 3 or 4 inches from home plate and he hit a home run to the opposite court,” manager Scott Servais said. “He’s that kind of talent.”
Rodríguez added: “He’s one of the greatest hitters we have right now.”
Alvarez, who hit 37 regular-season homers, trotted around the bases as the cameras turned to his Cuban parents, who are watching their first postseason streak after arriving in Houston in August. The southpaw pointed at them as he reached for the plate before reenacting the powerful swing that carried the Astros to a victory in their sixth straight AL Championship Series.
“With my family being here, I think it gives me a lot of peace of mind to have them here,” he said. “Yeah, I really think it helped my performance.”
Alvarez is the first player in playoff history to hit multiple home runs in the sixth inning or later with his team trailing.
There were two outs and a runner first in the eighth as Seattle had surely seen enough of Alvarez leave the court. The Mariners intentionally walked it and Alex Bregman made them pay, adding some insurance when he singled to make it 4-2.
“It was Barry Bonds-type stuff there,” said Baker, who managed Bonds in San Francisco. “It’s the ultimate respect.”
Houston starter Framber Valdez got off to a good start, allowing four hits and two runs in 5 2/3 innings. He looked different than he did in his last playoff appearance after he and fellow pitcher Luis Garcia both got hair extensions this season.
Hector Neris picked up the win after earning the final out of the sixth inning to escape a goal-laden jam. Bryan Abreu got the first two outs of the seventh before Rafael Montero came on and pitched 1 1/3 innings scoreless.
Ryan Pressly walked the leadoff batter in the ninth before JP Crawford went on a double play. Rodríguez doubled after that, but Pressly struck out Ty France for the stoppage. The Astros won despite seven walks in total.
The Mariners return to Seattle for Game 3 on Saturday in a huge hole in the best-five series as they host their first playoff game in 21 years.
“I know how hard it is to win on the road and it will be very difficult for them to win in Seattle,” Servais said. ” I am going to tell you. Because I know what it’s going to be like when our audience gets going on Saturday.
Alvarez carried the Astros early in this division series, taking on such a load that Houston wide receiver Martín Maldonado asked Alvarez after Game 1 if his back hurt because “you carry us as a team.” The slugger who has been criticized for his poor defense in the past also made big plays in left field.
Alvarez caught a sharp liner hit by Eugenio Suarez to finish the seventh. In game one, he fielded a single from Suarez in the fourth and delivered a perfect strike to Maldonado, which scored France at the plate.
Castillo drove in five hits and three runs with seven strikeouts in seven innings.
There was one in the second inning when Tucker hit a Castillo slider into the right field seats to put Houston up 1-0.
Crawford doubled with two outs in the third. But second baseman Jose Altuve made a bouncing throw after lining up a snap from Rodríguez who just beat him at first base to end the inning.
Suarez walked one out in the fourth and Mitch Haniger doubled. Carlos Santana then hit a jump that Valdez lined up cleanly to the third base side, but his home throw was off the line for an error that allowed Suarez to tie it at 1-all.
Santana was absent from the game after being caught in a debrief. Haniger scored when Dylan Moore singled to give the Mariners a 2-1 lead.
Valdez walked Haniger on a full count with two outs in the sixth, Santana doubled and Moore walked to load the bases and chase Valdez down. Neris took over and retired Cal Raleigh on a groundout to escape the jam.
CORREA AND PENA
Former Astros star Carlos Correa was helping with postgame interviews in the TBS studio on Thursday and interviewed Peña, who replaced him at remote shortstop after the game.
“He showed up and said, ‘Hey Jeremy, it’s Carlos Correa’,” Peña said. “So yeah, that was pretty cool.”
Houston’s Lance McCullers Jr., who has started just eight games this season after missing the first four months of the year with a forearm injury, will face rookie George Kirby in Game 3 in Seattle on Saturday. Kirby pitched in relief in Game 2 of the wildcard round and became the first rookie in MLB history to record a playoff season in his first career relief appearance.
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