WASHINGTON -- After a strikeout in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park, Yordan Alvarez slammed his bat and helmet near home plate in frustration. He was going through the worst slump of his career, and it was happening during the postseason.
Showing that kind of emotion, especially in a public forum, was rare for a person known for being one of the most reserved and soft-spoken players on the Astros. The first notable struggle of his young career forced manager AJ Hinch to slide Alvarez from the middle of Houston’s order to seventh.
But as Alvarez went through his first stretch of adversity in the Major Leagues, the Astros continued to believe in the 22-year-old, and it paid off in a big way on Sunday night at Nationals Park, as Alvarez snapped a 21-game homerless streak with a two-run homer in the second inning of their 7-1 win in Game 5 of the World Series over the Nationals.
At 22 years, 122 days old, Alvarez is the youngest American League player with a World Series homer since Tony Kubek hit two home runs for the Yankees in the 1957 Fall Classic. Alvarez’s home run even took a comedic turn, as the ball hit a fan holding two beers in the front row.
“He’s done this the whole year, but this postseason, as he’s tried to find his way, it was nice to see him stay within himself,” Hinch said. “Everybody was having a good time with him. He contributed great. … He was a big catalyst tonight.”
Alvarez is the favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award after slugging 27 home runs in the regular season, but as he struggled in the postseason Alvarez leaned on his father, Agustin, to help him stay positive.
The young slugger credits the support his father has given him as one of the reasons that he’s able to live out his dream of being a Major League player. When he was a teenager in Las Tunas, Cuba, Alvarez confided in his father about his desire to play professional baseball in the United States.
The two talk almost every day and there usually isn’t a topic that the father and son don’t discuss. But during Yordan's struggles, Agustin decided to go in a different direction.
“He would talk to me about everything else except baseball,” the younger Alvarez said in Spanish. “He knows that when you’re going through a slump, you don’t want to talk about those things.”
As the conversations with his father continued, so did his struggles at the plate. The Yankees attacked Alvarez with fastballs up in the zone before retiring him with breaking balls. He went 0-for-10 with nine strikeouts on breaking pitches. Overall, Alvarez went 1-for-22 at the plate during the ALCS, but the Astros were able to get past the Yanks and advance to the World Series.
After the series against New York, Agustin finally decided to have a talk about baseball with his son. The journey to the Majors wasn’t an easy one for Alvarez, who defected from Cuba in 2014. He remembered that the decision to leave his country at 17 was much more difficult to handle than a slump at the plate.
“He said some really nice things and he really knew how to send a message,” Alvarez said.
“He told me that he was feeling great,” Correa said. “I said, ‘It’s your night brother, let’s go.’ And he was able to contribute in a big way to the team.”
Alvarez, who was back in the starting lineup in Game 5 after being held out in Games 3 and 4 because of his outfield defense, is starting to resemble the player who shattered multiple rookie records during the regular season. With three hard-hit balls on Sunday, he now has six during the World Series. His 3-for-3 performance also pushed his batting average to .545 (6-for-11) with one home run and two RBIs in his first Fall Classic.
Now the Astros are going back to Houston with a 3-2 series lead, where they’ll have their designated hitter back in the lineup. As Monday’s off-day arrives, maybe Alvarez and his father will spend time reflecting on the previous games. Or maybe they’ll talk about anything other than baseball again.
Regardless, Alvarez will look to continue to stay hot at the plate and help his team bring a World Series title back to Houston. He’ll reflect on his historic rookie season after the World Series, but as he hit his first career World Series home run on Sunday, even he’s in awe of what he has accomplished since the day he told his father he wanted to play in the Majors.
“You think about so many things when you leave,” Alvarez said. “But I never imagined that I would be doing all the things that I have accomplished so far, honestly.”