Culture / Sporting Life

Inside the Moment Yordan Alvarez Changed Everything — Justin Verlander’s Blackout Sprint, an Old Rookie’s Crazy Resolve and a Series Forever Shifted

Another Bit of Astros Magic That Reminds Baseball What Makes This Team So Special

BY // 10.11.22

Yordan Alvarez sends his helmet flying first, flinging it to the heavens with joy and then everything is flying. Hats. Water bottles. Gatorade coolers. Thousands of those orange Astros rally towels in the stands. People into Alvarez’s arms. Giddy teammates onto his back. Now veteran third baseman Alex Bregman screams himself hoarse, practically pouring all of his bliss into Alvarez’s ear.

This is what happens when you join a limping Kirk Gibson in all-time Major League Baseball playoff lore, steal epic victory from what seemed like certain defeat just minutes ago. Somehow yank the game completely back after the other team’s secured 26 of the 27 outs it needs. This is what happens when you join Marwin Gonzalez, who changed everything in the 2017 World Series with that home run off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning of Game 2 at Dodgers Stadium, and Bregman himself, who won that epic 13-12 Game 5 2017 World Series game with a little walkoff single in the bottom of the 10th inning.

This is what happens when Jose Altuve, whose World Series powering Game 6 walkoff in the 2019 American League Championship Series is still driving New York Yankees fans absolutely batshit insane, must make a little room. Carlos Correa whose Game 5 walkoff home run in the 2020 ALCS in those weird fan-less COVID playoffs, knows the special electricity Alvarez is feeling.

In some ways, Yordan’s own walkoff is even louder — a three run, no-doubt-for-even-a-second home run that turns the big breakout moment the Mariners needed into another wild, crazy, madcap Astros October party.

Astros 8, Mariners 7 in Game 1 of a Mariners-Astros best-of-five series that now seems forever shifted.

These Astros may need one more World Series title to truly be considered a dynasty, but one thing is already certain. No team has produced more moments in the last six years of baseball than these forever never-die Astros.

“With Houston, you never know till the 27th out that it’s over,” Yuli Gurriel, one of the Core Astros of this run, says in Spanish, his grin needed no translation.

Yes, it’s an Astros thing.

Robbie Ray challenged Yordan Alvarez with the 312th pitch of a wild, woozy, wonderful playoff baseball afternoon turned evening. Alvarez made sure it was the last pitch of the night.

Alvarez’s big swing sends Astros ace Justin Verlander racing up the tunnel from the clubhouse. dressed in a T-shirt, desperate to get to the happy mosh pit at home plate in time. The 39-year-old Verlander may have never recorded a better 60 yard dash time in his entire athletic career.

“I, I don’t even really know,” Verlander says, his words coming out in a torrent when he’s asked to describe the moment later in the clubhouse. “Um, um. . . I just blacked out. Ran onto the field and grabbed him.

“Just one of those moments.”

It doesn’t even feel like running when your entire team is suddenly bouncing on clouds.

How Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais thought it was a prudent decision to pitch to Alvarez at all with two outs in the bottom of the ninth is a decision that the wisest baseball historians may never be able to answer. But Servais brought Ray, a lefty starting pitcher who’s struggled all month, in to do just that.

And watched a series forever change. And maybe watched the Mariners’ best real chance at becoming the first team to beat these Astros in a divisional series since 2015 go soaring into the high second deck of the right field stands with the force of a drone strike.

“These moments are the things you look back on,” Verlander says. “I know it’s just the DS, but when you go all the way and you win a World Series hopefully — that’s what our goal is and what we think that can happen — these are moments you look back and be like, ‘Man, we snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in that one.’

“And who knows what would have happened if we didn’t.”

The Astros did though. They did it again. With a bunch of seemingly smaller moments that led right up to Yordan Alvarez’s giant swing for the ages.

Houston Astros Yordan Alvarez hits a game-winning home run in the 9th inning to defeat the Seattle Mariners 8-7 in Game One of the American League Division Series Tuesday at Minute Maid Park
Yordan Alvarez made a game-changing swing and then flipped his bat. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

These Astros don’t win this game without Alex Bregman’s two run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning that kept them in range. And they certainly don’t win — in fact, Yordan never even gets a chance to bat in the ninth and go second deck — without 26-year-old hard road Astros rookie David Hensley and 24-year-old new Astros phenom Jeremy Pena both coming through with monster at-bats of their own in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Hensley takes three balls and fouls off two other pitches to masterfully work an at-bat against the Mariners closer in which he eventually gets hit with the eighth pitch he forces Paul Sewald to throw. Then, later with two outs, Pena muscles a low slider into center for a clean single after Sewald gets him down 0-2 in the count.

“Just a testament to everything that I’ve been through in baseball,” Hensley tells PaperCity after quietly getting dressed at his locker as camera crews jostle around the Astros’ established stars. “. . . I really can’t put it into words. Just to be part of something that special, first game of the postseason, help the team get some momentum. . .”

The Astros suddenly have as much momentum as a runaway freight train at this point. From seemingly lost with Verlander on the mound to second life baseball heaven.

“With Houston, you never know till the 27th out that it’s over.” — Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel

“I think we understand these kind of games and have learned,” Astros lifeline Jose Altuve says. “We’re not trying to be heroes. But Yordan was the hero tonight because the moment was special for him and he executed.”

It took more than three and half hours and those 312 pitches, but the Mariners know they’re not playing the Blue Jays anymore.

Yes, it’s an Astros thing.

How Yordan Alvarez Completely Leveled the Mariners’ Momentum

The Mariners rack up six hits against Verlander in the first two innings alone, turning Minute Maid Park into their own personal spray chart of fun. When Julio Rodriquez, the irrepressible 21-year-old who is at the heart of so much of what Seattle does, doubles into the right center field gap to make it 3-0, there is no longer any doubt about how much these Mariners believe.

A “Julio! Julio!” chant breaks out in a section of the Astros’ home ballpark, testament to how far Seattle fans are willing to go for the city’s first baseball playoff team in 21 years.

When J-Rod triples into the left center field gap, his helmet flying off as he slides into third base with no challenge whatsoever, to make it 5-2 on the way to 6-2 an inning after Yordan Alvarez cuts the Astros’ deficit to two runs (Alvarez finishes this game with five RBI), there seems to be no stopping this Mariners momentum. Rodriquez pops up, pumping his fists and screaming at the Seattle dugout.

This is the rare young superstar who can take an entire team along with him. But the Astros have one of those too.

His name is Yordan and when he gets to swing, beyond big things happen. This Alvarez starts parties that you never want to end. On this night, he even makes that crying kid in Astros gear who becomes his own secondary character in the TBS broadcast break into the largest of smiles.

From down 4-0, 6-2, 7-3 and finally 7-5 in the bottom of the ninth to. . . victory?!! Yes, it’s an Astros thing.

Robbie Ray challenged Yordan Alvarez with the 312th pitch of a wild, woozy, wonderful playoff baseball afternoon turned evening. Alvarez made sure it was the last pitch of the night.

“When Yordan swings, he does damage,” Gurriel laughs, having brought back visions of recent Astros October pasts with a vintage three hit game of his own.

“When I hit that ball and I saw the ball go, obviously, I could feel all the fans getting super loud and super excited,” Alvarez says through a Spanish translator. “And I’m still super excited. To this moment, I still haven’t fully assimilated what happened.

“But I think it’s just one of the most special moments of my career.”

It would be most special moment of almost anyone’s career. Yordan Alvarez brought the joy. And what’s better than that?

Yes, it’s an Astros thing. Still. Now as much as ever.

Part of the Special Series:

PaperCity - Astros Playoffs