Few players in all of baseball have as much raw power as Houston Astros hitter Yordan Alvarez. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez know how to bring the power. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yordan Alvarez got plenty of love after another explosive swing. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yordan Alvarez's teammates are already looking forward to his second season. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yordan Alvarez collects RBIs the way kids used to collect baseball cards. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yordan Alvarez has his home run trot down for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Baseball is one of the most difficult games man has ever come up with. Just don’t tell Yordan Alvarez that. For there is the Houston Astros wonder slugger hitting a home run in his very first at-bat after a bout with coronavirus.
Still think this mountain of a man is a mere mortal like the rest of us? Alvarez is somehow dabbling in the kind of you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it near tall tales that Babe Ruth built baseball’s most enduring legend around. No one is saying the 23-year-old Alvarez is anything close to Ruth, but like with Ruth, a number of his home runs have a story around them.
Take the one he hits in the first inning Friday night at a Minute Maid Park that somehow seems more energized just because Yordan Alvarez is in the still-fan-empty building. It is his first at-bat against Major League pitching since essentially spring training way back in February (and he was shutdown then due to knee soreness). Alvarez estimates he got about 15 at-bats against live pitching in Corpus Christi at the Astros alternate training site in the last week or so, but that’s not exactly elite level Major League pitching.
Yet, there is, in the first plate appearance of his coronavirus shortened season, taking a 88.1 MPH fastball from Seattle Mariners starter Nestor Cortes and sending it soaring into the left field Crawford Boxes for a no doubt three run homer. You’re really not supposed to be able to just do that kind of thing.
Who needs practice? What’s the big deal about timing? Just see the ball, hit the ball and send it into the stratosphere.
Alvarez has now 28 home runs for the Astros in 88 games. If the reigning American League Rookie of the Year ever gets to play a full season, pitchers may need to duck for cover. Alvarez will not get to play even a full truncated 60-game season this year. He missed the first 18 games of the Astros’ sprint of a season due to a positive COVID-19 test, something he revealed on a Zoom session with reporters Friday afternoon, just hours before his home run return.
Before Alvarez spoke, Astros manager Dusty Baker openly wondered if his team would have the same Yordan right away. It turns out there’s no reason to fret about Alvarez’s stroke or the toll that fighting off the coronavirus (Alvarez says his only real symptoms were headaches) could have on him. This slugger apparently needs less practice than Allen Iverson.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Astros outfielder Josh Reddick says of Alvarez’s dramatic home run return. “When Yordan comes up, we expect him to do some pretty great things. Really cool moment — guy who’s probably been fighting and grinding his teeth to get back here in this lineup — just comes in, steps in and produces.”
Yordan’s home run left his bat with a 98.9 MPH exit velocity. His second at-bat produces a 112 MPH exit velocity shot that the Mariners happen to make a good play on. So much for needing time to readjust to Major League pitching.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a batter’s box,” Alvarez says. “But I felt confident in there.”
Not that Alvarez did not have some anxiety over his coronavirus diagnosis initially.
“Obviously it’s a scary situation for me, especially with my (young) daughter, because I’m in contact with her every day,” the Spanish speaking Alvarez says through a team interpreter. “And I’m playing with her all the time. So it’s a scary situation knowing that you’re that close to your family and to have the virus is obviously scary at the outset.”
Alvarez says his daughter Mia did not test positive for coronavirus, but his wife Monica did get it and was asymptomatic.
During his time away from the team, Alvarez admits to growing frustrated as he felt healthy but kept testing positive for the virus.
“It was obviously super frustrating to me to feel good physically and not be able to return to baseball,” he says.
Those frustrations seem to be taken out on the baseball in plate appearance No. 1. Cortes’ seventh pitch to Alvarez could be a lucky one for the Astros’ fortunes. With Yordan Alvarez back in the lineup, this under .500 team becomes suddenly much more whole (even if the ace and the closer are still missing). Alvarez’s three run bomb in his first at-bat powers Houston to a 4-1 lead and sends them rolling on to a nine run first inning and an eventual 11-1 win.
The Mariners lefty starter only gets one out. The Astros do not just bat around in that first inning. They send 14 men to the plate with George Springer, Josh Reddick, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Alvarez all batting twice in the inning.
“It gets us on our toes,” Reddick says of the impact of Alvarez’s return and the breakout. “We haven’t seen this lineup do what it’s capable of doing all year. I think this is a bit of a wakeup call for us to finally realize we’re here and we’re here to stay right now.”
Yordan is back. Hitting home runs that have their own stories. And the entire lineup seems energized. Seven different Astros drive in runs, with Alvarez’s ho-hum four RBI debut game leading the way (of course).
“I felt really good being back in a batter’s box,” Alvarez says after the game. “It felt good, I felt comfortable. I wasn’t really expecting to hit a home run on that exact swing, but it left.”
It did — and these 9-10 Astros somehow feel like they’re almost rolling with plenty of time left in a season that will usher 16 teams into the playoffs. Alvarez wears a plain black T-shirt, with a simple cross around his neck, in the postgame. A great baseball myth maker does not need a superhero outfit.
Yordan Alvarez’s Home Run Stories
This coronavirus return home run joins the one Alvarez hit into the third deck last season that prompted the Astros to change the color of the faraway seat it plunked to commemorate its ridiculous distance and the three home runs he hit in one Baltimore night as Yordan Alvarez home run feats that have their own myth around them.
“He can hit it to any part of the ballpark,” says Baker, who watched Alvarez play a game in person for the first time this night. “I’ve been told that nothing should surprise me with him.”
A lot of Major Leaguers can hit home runs. Alvarez hits home runs that almost sound like tall tales. If your fishing buddy told you this kind of story about something he caught, you’d never believe it. If your friend relayed a dating tale this fantastical, you’d dismiss it as a bragging embellishment.
With Yordan Alvarez, the stories are somehow all true.