Yordan in 'Trout category'? Clutch HR sparks thought

Slugger's big blast, Hunter Brown's gem lead Astros to 6th straight win

May 21st, 2023

HOUSTON -- There may be no bigger sign of respect as a hitter than being compared to the great Angels superstar Mike Trout. That was the level of recognition bestowed on Astros slugger  by A’s manager Mark Kotsay shortly after Alvarez launched a tie-breaking homer in the eighth inning Saturday to beat his team.

Alvarez crushed a 3-1 slider from A’s lefty reliever Richard Lovelady and sent it 392 feet into the upper deck in right field at Minute Maid Park for a home run -- his team-high 10th of the season -- to send the streaking Astros to their sixth consecutive win, 3-2.

“He’s one guy in the lineup you can’t let beat you,” Kotsay said. “It’s a 3-1 slider that actually wasn’t a bad pitch. From my angle, Yordan went out, it looked like he might have been sitting on the slider and hooked it to right field. He’s a special player. I put him in the Trout category for sure.”

Alvarez also drove in a run with a first-inning sacrifice fly and has 41 RBIs in the 39 games he’s played this season. Astros manager Dusty Baker said he’s come to expect Alvarez to come through in the clutch again and again. 

The stats back that expectation, as Saturday's blast tied Alvarez with the Mets' Pete Alonso with six high-leverage homers this season.

“The fans expect it, and when you get it, it’s kind of like when you expect the superstars in the NBA to take the last shot and everybody knows it and he sinks it,” Baker said. “Boy, that was a big win for us.  was really good, and our bullpen was good. We scored just enough to win.”

Brown, the Astros' rookie starter, struck out a career-high nine batters in six innings, allowing two runs and five hits with no walks. He hit 99 mph in the first inning with his fastball, which he threw 51 percent of his 97-pitch effort. He struck out four of the first five batters he faced and tied his previous career high of eight strikeouts by the fourth inning.

“I just go out there and compete,” Brown said. “You can’t really control the results like that. If you’re executing your pitches, and that’s all I think when I’m doing that, I’ll get pretty good results consistently.”

In winning nine of their last 10 games, the Astros are a season-high seven games over .500 (26-19) and remain on the heels of the first-place Rangers (28-17) in the AL West. Houston has a plus-18 run differential during those 10 games, led by a bullpen that’s posted a 1.64 ERA in that span with five saves in five chances.

“Early, our bullpen was giving it up some because I think our guys weren’t ready for it, especially because half our bullpen went to the [World Baseball Classic],” Baker said. “These guys weren’t ready to be themselves. Now these guys are getting in shape, their arms are getting accustomed to the workload. The key is the starting pitching, because that limits the workload on your already outstanding bullpen.”

On Saturday, it was , and  throwing three scoreless innings in relief of Brown. The Astros made it a point to keep their bullpen intact after last year’s terrific 2022 season, and it’s been the one facet of their game that’s been the most reliable. Both the offense and starting pitching have had injuries, but the bullpen remains elite.

“I think a lot of guys had a little bit of bad luck to start and things even out when the season gets going,” Pressly said. “We’re starting to throw the ball really well, and as long as we keep doing that and giving our offense a chance, then we’re going to put up some quality games.”

The Houston rotation, which is without injured starters , and , has been the beneficiary of the bullpen work. Just ask Brown, who didn’t get the win but lowered his season ERA to 3.38 through nine starts. The Astros are 6-3 in his starts.

“We got dudes on dudes back there,” he said of the bullpen. “You've got no reservation about handing the ball over. You’ve got a full stable of guys out there that can come in and get the job done and that’s what they’ve been doing. It’s been really good.”