HOUSTON — Houston Astros’ walk-off home run, hitter Yordan Álvarez, hit Tuesday to cap a wild win from behind in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, reminiscent of last October’s big blasts.
It left the bat with all the ferocity and speed of another postseason home run at Minute Maid Park: Albert Pujols’ Laser against Brad Lidge in 2005. It was the first shot to the end of a game by a team who, at that point, had since by Joe Carter was homer, who won the 1993 Toronto World Series. And while it won’t go down in the annals of time because the Astros’ 8-7 win over the Seattle Mariners arrived so early in the postseason, the 41,125 in attendance and those in both clubhouses — on one side ecstatic, stunned silence on the other hand – couldn’t help but marvel at Álvarez’s performance.
The Mariners extended a lead similar to the one they overcame in their wildcard clinch win over Toronto for the first time in two decades in the postseason. And after closing that 7-3 deficit with a double home run from Alex Bregman in the eighth inning, Houston hit Álvarez’s home run to his ninth straight playoff opening win, a major league record.
“If you’re a Houston fan and that didn’t excite you, be encouraged, I don’t know what to say,” Álvarez said. “I’ve also spoken to my wife about someone who wasn’t having a great day and that moment changed his day for him and those are the little details. Things like that can change someone’s day.”
As animated as the Astros and crowd were, Seattle’s day provably took a turn for the worse with a 93-mile dip over the heart of the plate. With Paul Sewald getting closer and allowing two runners to reach, Mariners manager Scott Servais called on left-hander Robbie Ray to take on Álvarez, who was also left-handed. Ray, the reigning AL Cy Young winner who signed a $115 million free agent deal with Seattle last winter, is usually a starter, but Seattle planned on using him in Game 1 in a firefighter role.
Álvarez is no ordinary brand. The 25-year-old is one of baseball’s best hitters and ranks third in Houston’s dangerous lineup, and with no discernible platoon split and Ray’s penchant for giving up home runs, Servais risked — and lost. Álvarez fouled Ray’s first pitch, a 94 mph sinker almost straight back. The second went forward 438 feet and landed in the stands in right field after being trampled by Álvarez’s bat at 115 mph (187 km/h).
“I was just trying to talk him into sinking the plumb bob,” Ray said. “I just didn’t get there. … Just frustrating.”
Never, Ray said, did he think about fighting around Álvarez and loading the bases. The Mariners found themselves in a precarious position as Sewald pinch hitter David Hensley hit with a full-count fastball and Jeremy Pena lost by leaving a 1-2 slider over the plate that the rookie hit into midfield. Then came Alvarez.
“He didn’t miss it,” said Astros second baseman Jose Altuve. “He’s just a great hitter. He won’t miss twice.”
Altuve knows the feeling of hitting a walk-off homer in the playoffs after winning the pennant with his left field shot at Minute Maid in front of New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman in 2019, but even that was a tie. A postseason walk-off homer with multiple runs and two outs in the ninth inning? Never happened before Tuesday.
Astros showing up in October is nothing new. They’ve appeared in five consecutive AL Championship Series and won 106 AL best games this season, nearly matching their franchise record. With a loaded pitching staff, a deep bullpen, a strong lineup, and a stellar field, they’re the likely favorites to win the pennant.
Of course, they didn’t expect to start their postseason with ace Justin Verlander — AL Cy Young’s likely winner this season — allowing six runs of 10 hits in four innings. Seattle jumped on him for a run in the first, three in the second and a pair in the fourth, with a double homer from JP Crawford and top two hitters Julio Rodriguez and Ty France walking 5 for their first 5 and the Mariners’ offense catalyze.
Houston’s bullpen mostly choked Seattle, blazing a path that Astros thugs were happy to walk down. Yuli Gurriel hit home on the fourth homer to reduce the deficit to 6-3. Bregman did his job in the eighth. And as Álvarez watched Ray warm up, he grabbed an iPad, watched video of his five previous attacks against the 31-year-old, and attempted to replicate what he had done in the regular season when he scored .306 /.406/ hit. .613 in 136 games.
“The postseason is really just an extension of the season,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He has a very slow pulse, I’m sure of that. He doesn’t show too much excitement. He has a high level of focus, discipline and confidence. You know you have a chance when Jordan comes to the plate. and when he doesn’t get through, you’re almost surprised. I mean, you know nobody can do it all the time, but he’s pretty good at it.
Good undercuts Álvarez. He put the Astros on the board first with a two-run double in the third inning and then posted their final record with a sinker that didn’t go down when it was supposed to — sinking Seattle’s first crack in stealing the home — field advantage that was in his grasp. The Mariners get another chance Thursday when Luis Castillo, their cherished Deadline acquisition, takes on Houston left-hander Framber Valdez in Game 2.
“It’s like a heavyweight fight,” Servais said. “You will be beaten. That’s how you react in those moments and it’s difficult. Today I thought we had it in our hands. You have to give them credit. Surely they’ve been in this spot many times and you don’t stop.”
https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/34778164/yordan-alvarez-hits-3-run-walk-hr-astros-win-game-1 Yordan Alvarez hits 3-run walk-off HR as Astros win Game 1