Yordan Alvarez knows how to wield a bat like few others. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Luis Garcia has gone from afterthought to essential Astros arm. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa and Yordan Alvarez are powerful sluggers for the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yuli Gurriel's bat is as steady and strong as ever for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Minute Maid Park is a much more beautiful with fans in the stands. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa are the two oldest managers in baseball. And they could meet again in the postseason. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yordan Alvarez got plenty of love after another explosive swing. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Michael Brantley is a professional hitter. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Luis Garcia could be an underrated weapon for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yordan Alvarez knows something about creating big moments. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros fans also made themselves heard during this intense Dodgers-Astros scene. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Luis Garcia has shown strikeout stuff as an Astros starter. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yuli Gurriel is usually very steady on defense. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio and GM James Click share a laugh. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros fans are embracing another summer of fun. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The ice cubes come pouring over Yordan Alvarez’s head, running down his chin and covering his shirt. Suddenly, the coolest of no-stress hitters is even more chill. Veteran catcher Martin Maldonado is the culprit, coming up from behind the big man with a full cooler and devious intentions.
Welcome to the world of walkoffs, Yordan.
The Houston Astros wonder slugger has been showing all season that he’s much more than just a hitter of epic home runs. But this 2-1 win over the Chicago White Sox that sets off a wild Friday night celebration at Minute Maid Park should be Exhibit A in Alvarez’s case for being the purest of pure professional hitters.
Yordan Alvarez just gets it done. By hook or by crook. By a roller slower than the Whataburger line at 2 am where the defense is not. Or by slicing a curving double into the right field corner that’s on a mission of its own.
That double — which allows the 37-year-old Yuli Gurriel to show all of his surprising speed and score the winning run from first in the bottom of the ninth — is the first walkout of Yordan Alvarez’s Major League career. But it’s definitely not going to be the last.
The 23-year-old who is a key to any visions of keeping this Astros’ modern mini dynasty going is still just getting started in many ways. Alvarez really has not even gotten hot this season yet. Certainly not with his prodigious power stroke.
Yet, here he is on June 19, hitting .310 with 39 runs scored and 36 RBIs. Though, he might want to work on dodging teammates chasing after him with intentions of dog piling him in joy. And ice coolers.
“The truth is I got pretty surprised actually,” Alvarez says of the frenzied walkoff celebration. “Because I didn’t realize Yuli had a chance to score on that ball. So when I got there I lifted my head up, saw that he was rounding third and thought, ‘Wow, he has a chance to score here.’
“And after that everybody came storming out there onto the field. I was a little bit surprised. I wasn’t ready for the moment.”
Yes, even a hulk of a man (at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, Alvarez is the most physically imposing Astro) can get swallowed up in a happy pile of teammates jumping around and pulling on his jersey.
“I’m really happy with the moment right there,” Alvarez says. “It was very special for me. It’s the first time that I’ve felt that kind of emotion in a Big League game.”
The Astros (41-28) have now beaten the American League pace setting White Sox in two straight games, already guaranteeing themselves at least a split of this measuring stick series before the first pitch of the third game is even thrown.
This time, Dusty Baker’s team did it by overcoming one of the most fearsome obstacles in baseball in 2021. Carlos Rodon on the mound.
With his full beard and serious demeanor, Carlos Rodon looks like a Portland coffeehouse barista. But you wouldn’t want someone to make your latte with this much force. Rodon has already racked up nine or more strikeouts in five starts this season. He’s thrown a no hitter that almost was a perfect game.
Rodon’s fastball comes in at 98, 97 MPH again and again on this night. His slider dances like it’s Al Pacino doing the tango.
But he’s gone by the time this game is decided, done in by one of the softest singles Yordan Alvarez has ever hit.
“It’s a tough team to face offensively,” Rodon says afterwards. “I was just trying to attack. They made me work.”
The Astros’ first hit of the night off Rodon does not come until the fifth inning. And it could not have been a softer one. Wonder slugger Yordan Alvarez just reaches down and half flicks a slider — one that’s so low and out of the zone that it almost scrapes the dirt — down a wide open third base line. With the White Sox playing a shift, there is no one to stop the dribble roller.
Alvarez sheepishly grins at first base having turned an 0-2 count into a game shifting hit, but Rodon looks seriously disgusted. And he becomes undone. For a little bit. The dominant White Sox ace proceeds to walk Carlos Correa, allow another relatively soft single to Abraham Toro and then walk Martin Maldonado, the Astros’ unimposing ninth hitter, on four pitches with the bases loaded.
“It was very special for me. It’s the first time that I’ve felt that kind of emotion in a Big League game.” — Yordan Alvarez
That bit of self-inflicted damage that even a masochist would balk at ties the game at one. And ruins Carlos Rodon’s brilliant evening. Of course, Rodon still allows only three hits and strikes out eight in seven innings, weaving together 106 pitches of near total dominance.
But it’s not enough to get the White Sox the win.
Not against an Astros team that seems to have found its groove. Baker’s squad has won 14 of its last 18 games, setting the stage for another Astros summer and fall in Houston.
“You can’t win the same way every single day,” Baker says. “One day you’re scoring runs. One day you need pitching. One day it’s defense. Winning streaks are usually about that. You find ways to win.”
Having a weapon as complete as Yordan Alvarez sure aids in that search for winning ways. The big man from Cuba gets three of the Astros’ five total hits on this night, shakes Rodon out of his dominance with that soft beating-the-shift roller. And oh yeah, wins the game in the bottom of the ninth.
“I heard that was his first walkoff,” Baker says of Alvarez’s moment. “It’s hard to imagine.”
Soon everyone is chasing Alvarez across the field as a Friday night crowd of more than 30,000 roars. Then, when Alvarez is doing the postgame TV interview with Julia Morales, with Astros translator Andrew Dunn-Bauman at his side, Maldonado strikes.
Some ice baths are earned. Yordan Alvarez has his first Big League walkoff. And the Astros are winning games they probably shouldn’t — when the opposing starting pitcher has dominated them.
“Oh yeah, I enjoy it a lot,” Baker laughs about the celebration. “If I could run any faster I’d be out there myself.”
Baker needn’t worry. Few people can keep up with Yordan Alvarez and the Astros these days.
Welcome to the world of walkoffs, Yordan. Everyone expects you to make yourself at home