HOUSTON -- Things are going so well for the Astros these days that they were able to overcome a pair of costly ninth-inning miscues Thursday night against the Tigers and still manage to enjoy a walk-off celebration at Minute Maid Park.
Astros closer Ryan Pressly, pitching for the first time in nearly a month, blew a save when he gave up a two-out, two-strike, game-tying homer to Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario in the ninth inning. Then, leading off the bottom of the ninth, Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez stood in the box and admired his fly ball to left-center that didn’t clear the wall, leaving him with a single instead of a double.
Alvarez, pulled from the game for a faster runner by manager Dusty Baker, was let off the hook moments later when Kyle Tucker shot a single through the left side of the infield to score pinch-runner Chas McCormick from second base to send the Astros to their fourth consecutive win, 3-2, over the Tigers.
“When I took him out for a pinch-[runner], he came to me immediately and he said that he messed up. I said, ‘Yeah, I know,’” Baker said. “Baseball’s a game; like life, it teaches you lessons sometimes. That probably won’t happen again. I’m glad we won the game. We all thought it was gone, but the ball is not gone until it disappears over the fence. Like I said, he learned a lesson. He really [would have] felt bad had we lost that ballgame. Sometimes, you need your teammates to bail you out.”
Leading off the ninth against hard-throwing Tigers reliever Gregory Soto, Alvarez crushed a 90.4 mph slider and sent it rocketing towards the wall in left-center field. Thinking he may have hit a walk-off homer, Alvarez watched the flight of the ball and had to scurry to first when it hit just below the yellow line.
“[The ball] is traveling eight feet less than normal, I read somewhere, but eight feet on Alvarez is usually the difference between 450 and 442,” Baker said.
According to Statcast, Alvarez’s fly ball traveled 397 feet and had an exit velocity of 106.4 mph. The ball would have been a home run in 13 parks, and it certainly looked and sounded like a homer off the bat.
"I think I froze a little bit after I hit the ball,” Alvarez said. “I thought the ball was gone. Obviously, that doesn't justify me not running."
Alvarez immediately went to Baker in the dugout and apologized.
“Super happy we won the game, but still a little bit upset that I disrespected my teammates and the game a little bit there,” Alvarez said.
McCormick was pushed to second base by a walk issued to Yuli Gurriel and scored on Tucker’s grounder through a hole created on the left side of the infield by the shift. It was Tucker’s second career walk-off hit, joining a homer to beat the Mariners on Aug. 16, 2020.
“You have to respect how hard [Soto] throws, so you have to get down for his heater and then do as best you can off the slider,” Tucker said. “We put up some pretty good ABs between Yordan, Yuli and I, and it worked out well for us.”
The Astros were one strike away from posting their third shutout in four games when Pressly left a curveball over the plate for Candelario, who turned on it and sent it 383 feet over the right-field wall to tie the game. Pressly was pitching for the first time since April 13 because of right knee inflammation.
“It felt good to get out there,” Pressly said. “I had a very poorly executed pitch. Probably a handful of times I can count I’ve done something like that and it’s frustrating, especially being the first time out. Thank God for Tuck and Yordan and everybody who swung the bat really well today and bailed me out.”
Pressly began the ninth by getting Javier Báez to ground out and Austin Meadows to fly out. Miguel Cabrera followed with his third single of the game to pass Al Kaline for the No. 31 spot on the all-time MLB hits list and was then lifted for a pinch-runner. Pressly got ahead of Candelario, 1-2, but couldn’t finish him off.
“He made some quality pitches,” Baker said. “The guy fouled off a tough breaking ball and then he got a breaking ball up. [Pressly] felt badly, too, but he was throwing the ball well and in everybody’s opinion, he’s been one of the best closers in baseball for a long time and a long time to come. We can look back and say, ‘What if?’ but the bottom line is we won the game.”