Richard Justice: Yordan Alvarez finished the comeback with his bat. He started it with his defense.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Maria Lysaker/UPI/Shutterstock (13457639as) Houston Astros Alex Bregman is congratulated by Yordan Alvarez after hitting a two-run home run in the eighth inning against the Seattle Mariners in an American League Division Series game at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Tuesday, October 11, 2022. Alds Astros Mariners, Houston, Texas, United States – 11 Oct 2022

Richard Justice: Yordan Alvarez finished the comeback with his bat. He started it with his defense.

   We’ll get to David Hensley and Jeremy Peña and Hunter Brown. The Astros don’t win it without these three rookies. We’ll get to Kyle Tucker, too. The Astros don’t win without him either.

   Also, big props to Dusty Baker, who had a great game in emptying his  bench of position players and extracting this performance from four relievers: 5 innings, 3 hits, 1 run, 0 walks, 5 strikeouts.

   In the end, the Astros needed every little thing in scoring two runs in the eighth and three in the ninth to beat the Mariners 8-7 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Tuesday.

   This game had so many twists and turns that we may still be thinking about it six months from now depending how this postseason plays out. It was so good that we’re in no hurry to turn the page.

   First, Yordan Alvarez.

   On an afternoon in which he drove in five runs and had one of the biggest home runs in the history of postseason baseball, let’s begin with his—wait for it— dee-fense!

   (The 116.7 mph exit velocity was the hardest-hit home run of his career and the fourth-hardest hit walk-off homer since 2015. That’s regular season and postseason.)

   Back to his defense. From the moment he trotted out to left field on Opening Day this season, that part of his game has been a pleasant surprise.

    He’s way more athletic and quicker than we expect from a 6-foot-5, 225-pound slugger. To watch him sprint smoothly into the corner to make plays is to understand how many hours he has spent with outfield coach Gary Pettis working on his craft.

   And his arm.




   During a regular season in which he made just 56 starts in left field, Alvarez still threw out seven baserunners, tied for second among American League left fielders.

   If it hadn’t been for his arm in Game 1, he might not have been in position to win the game with his bat in the bottom of the ninth inning.

   In the top of the fourth inning with the Mariners leading 6-2, Seattle first baseman Ty France attempted to score from second base when Eugenio Suárez lashed a single to left.

   Alvarez scooped up the ball, wheeled and fired a strike to Martín Maldonado at home play. His throw beat France by at least six feet for the final out of the inning.

   France was 80 feet from home plate when Alvarez got to the ball and fired a 93.6-mph rocket, the third-hardest in his career.

   Alvarez’s career will always be defined by his offense. This season, he’s going to finish third in the AL MVP voting behind only Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani after finishing second in the AL in on-base percentage (.406), slugging (.613) and OPS (1.019). He was third with 37 home runs and second in the entire majors in hard-hit percentage (59.8).

   Offense is why the Astros signed him to a six-year, $115-million contract in June and what will always be his calling card.

   But the great ones take pride in every part of their game, and Alvarez is more than a little proud that he contributed to a 106-win season in other ways.

“I asked him today if he had a little bit sore back,” Martín Maldonado said. “And he said, `Why?’ And I said, ‘Because you carry us as a team.’ But I would say probably 41,000 people, the fans, too. So he got a lot of weight on his back.”

    Three rookies do their part

   Alex Bregman would not leave the interview room without pointing out the contributions of Hensley and Peña.

   Hensley stepped to home plate as a pinch hitter for Mauricio Dubón with one out in the bottom of the ninth. He finished a great eight-pitch at-bat against Seattle closer Paul Sewald with a full-count fastball that grazed the front of his jersey.

   No player made more of his limited opportunity than the 26-year-old who made his major league debut on August 27 and batted .345 in 16 games and 34 plate appearances.

   Like Brown, he played his way onto the playoff roster, and in the biggest at-bat of his very brief career, gave the Astros just what they needed.

  Sewald struck out Jose Altuve for the second out, and with Game 1 on the line, Peña lined a two-strike single to center.

   Until then, he’d had a rough offensive day, going a jittery 0 for 4. But as he has done his entire rookie season, he had a hand in a victory.

   So did Brown.

   He made his debut in September in what was seen as an opportunity to get his feet wet and prepare him for a possible permanent spot in the 2023 rotation.

   He was so overpowering—0.89 ERA, 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings, 1.082 baserunners per inning—that he became a logical option for MLB’s best bullpen.

   He entered the game in the eighth inning with the Astros down 7-3. His scoreless eighth kept the margin there and helped set the stage for the fireworks that would follow.

   Speaking of defense…

   Kyle Tucker was one of the five or six right fielders in the game, so the play he made on Julio Rodriguez in the top of the ninth inning was what we’ve come to expect.

   With the Astros trailing 7-5 with one out, he hustled back near the wall to haul in a Rodriguez drive that could have put Seattle in position to score an eighth run.

   By the numbers…

   The Mariners had a 91% win probability when Alvarez came to bat in the bottom of the ninth. That number is based on past performance: teams on the road ahead by two runs with two outs and two runners on. In an instant, the win probably went from Seattle 91% to Houston 100%.

   That one hitter swing in the largest in MLB history, surpassing the 87% swing when Kirk Gibson ended Game 1 of the 1988 World Series with a walk-off homer.‘s Sarah Langs pointed out while there have been four walk-off homers when trailing in postseason history, only two of those came with two outs. Only Alvarez did it while behind by multiple runs.


   This was the 1,714th game in postseason history over 118 years. What we witnessed—a home run with a team down by two runs and down to its final out—had never happened before.

   Brad Ausmus came close. The Astros trailed by one run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in Game 4 of the National League Division Series when Ausmus hammered a game-tying home run. Chris Burke’s homer walked it off and clinched the series for the Astros in the bottom of the 18th.

   Ausmus did not let his teammates forget that someone not known for offense had delivered in a huge spot. That Christmas, he gave teammates mugs and t-shirts with him hitting the homer.

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