7:28 PM ET TEXAS — Luis Castillo throws a sinker unlike any other starting pitcher in baseball. The 73rd pitch of his American League Division Series start on Thursday was certainly completed perfectly; the ball starts on one side of the plate and winds up on the other, going roughly a foot and a half horizontally on average. The only issue was that the Houston Astros’ incredibly gifted slugger Yordan Alvarez was waiting at the plate to demonstrate the pitch’s weakness.
Another day, another playoff game, another deficit-erasing, go-ahead home run by Alvarez, another victory for the Astros—this one a 4-2 triumph over the Seattle Mariners to give Houston a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five ALDS. The sinker left Castillo’s hand at 98 mph, wound up 4 inches off an outside corner, and landed 371 feet away.
Alvarez’s credentials are no longer in need of polishing: He is one of the top left-handed batters in the world at age 25, if not the best. But what he has done in the first two games of the series is unprecedented in baseball’s playoff history. In the ninth inning of Game 1, Alvarez hit a three-run walk-off home run to help the Astros come from behind. In Game 2, they were down 2-1 when Alvarez hit Castillo’s sinker over the short porch in left field of Minute Maid Park, sending the crowd of 41,774 into a frenzy and resulting in a triumph that puts them only one win away from clinching their sixth consecutive AL Championship Series.
Never had a player hit more than one game-winning home run when behind in the sixth or later innings of a postseason game. In two games, Alvarez accomplished it twice.
When I step up to the plate, I simply try to unplug from everything, Alvarez said. “I just sort of try to go in there with a plan of attack and just walk out there, try to picture everything that might happen there and yeah,” the author said.
Ah, you’re right. Yes, the Mariners felt good about their position after Castillo defeated Astros starter Framber Valdez, who gave up two runs in the fourth inning on a Valdez fielding error and an RBI single by Dylan Moore. For the first time in 20 years, Seattle entered the postseason and hoped to return to T-Mobile Park for Game 3 on Saturday with a split of the series.
Instead, Alvarez’s inevitable arrival occurred in the sixth. With two outs, rookie Jeremy Pea hit his second hit of the day while batting in the No. 2 spot. Alvarez was initiated by Castillo using a turbo-sinker. He blocked it. He brought another back. Alvarez didn’t overlook this.
Castillo declared, “If you’re excellent, I’m good, too.” “He was able to make contact with that ball, despite the fact that I had the same intention of simply getting him out. Any lineup has never made me feel nervous. I go up to the mound to compete when I get up there.”
The Mariners’ lineup was smothered by Houston’s bullpen. In the top of the sixth inning, with the bases loaded and the game poised to be decided, Astros manager Dusty Baker pulled the quality-start king Valdez. To set up Alvarez’s heroics, reliever Hector Neris forced a groundout from Cal Raleigh.
He continued on after that as well. He caught a line fly from Eugenio Suarez in left field in the eighth inning with two runners on base that may have eluded him in previous campaigns when he largely served as a designated hitter. Mariners manager Scott Servais appeared to have learned his lesson when Alvarez walked up to the plate once more in the eighth inning. Even though reliever Andrs Muoz had already intentionally walked Pea, he stuck up four fingers to signal for his 10th walk of the year. The cleanup batter Alex Bregman singled into right field on the following pitch to bring Pea in.
Alvarez has undoubtedly hurt us in this series, according to Servais. “He’s hot at the moment. You must be aware of that. You probably have a game plan in mind for how you want to go through their lineup and which players you want to play it safe with. He’s in the zone, he’s a super-talented guy, and he’s made us pay over the last few days when you’re throwing balls 3, 4, inches off the plate and he hits ’em like that.”
Alvarez received praise that didn’t stop there. Last year, he was as productive in the divisional round and ALCS before going cold in the World Series, going 2-for-20 with no home runs. The initial triumph has come back. Baker’s sole wish is for the Astros to give Alvarez the kind of stage appropriate for one of his nicknames.
I refer to him as Grande, Baker said. He is a huge kid.