'Student of the game' Alvarez slugs pair of two-run HRs

Rookie backstop eyeing Bench's record for most homers by catcher 21 or younger

July 19th, 2023

NEW YORK -- In what’s been a rare occurrence this season, the Mets were an offensive juggernaut on Tuesday night at Citi Field. Good thing, too, because they found themselves in a slugfest, barely edging the White Sox, 11-10.

Catcher highlighted the scoring for New York with two home runs, his 18th and 19th of the season, along with two walks and four RBIs in his third multihomer game of the year.

“What he’s done, statistically, has been incredible,” said teammate Mark Canha. “Nineteen home runs, and he [hardly played] the first month [of the season]. He’s such a student of the game, which is cool to see.”

The 19 home runs are the second most in a season for a catcher aged 21 or younger. Johnny Bench set the record with the Reds in 1969, with 26.

“I’m not putting too much mind to [the record],” Alvarez said through interpreter Alan Suriel. “I want to continue to go out there. The games are still meaningful, and I expect to get more home runs. I don’t know how many home runs Johnny Bench hit, and I’m not focusing on that right now.”

Alvarez is having an impressive July, hitting .368 with seven home runs and 13 RBIs. Manager Buck Showalter said that Alvarez has improved his patience at the plate, which was certainly on display with his two free passes against Chicago.

“He’s not having as many emotional at-bats. You’re always walking a fine line of not taking that away from him,” Showalter said. “He’s under control. The walks he took tonight were impressive. When you have that type of power at your fingertip, you want to swing, hit the ball, you want to make it go a long way. … I’m enjoying watching him start to walk a little bit more, and he realizes what [pitchers] are trying to do to him. When they do make a mistake, he’s in a position to hurt them.”

Alvarez said his latest success at the plate has come from adjustments he’s made to the lower half of his body.

“I was rotating my front foot too much,” he said. “Now that I have more control over it, I feel like I have better control of my swing.”

D-backs outfielder Corbin Carroll has been considered by many the prohibitive favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award. But with a continued power surge, could Alvarez make a run at it?

“He’s having a good year,” Showalter said about Alvarez. “I’m proud of him. We have a lot of baseball to play. There are a lot of people who are proud of their players -- nobody more than we are.”

Alvarez's first home run on Tuesday came in the first inning off right-hander Lucas Giolito. New York already had a 2-0 lead when he swung at a 1-0 pitch and hit a two-run blast into the second deck down the left-field line. The exit velocity was 108.6 mph, and the ball traveled a Statcast-projected 394 feet.

Alvarez’s 19th homer came five innings later. Left-hander Tanner Banks was on the mound when he hit another bomb over the center-field fence for a two-run homer, giving the Mets an 11-4 lead.

“He’s having fun,” teammate Francisco Lindor said. “When you’re having fun, the stage is never too big for you. He’s educating himself. He’s learning. He’s having fun. He’s staying in the moment. He’s not letting the ups and downs affect him. That’s a dangerous combination.”

Alvarez has a work ethic that is second to none. According to starter Carlos Carrasco, Alvarez arrives at the ballpark by 1 p.m. for a 7:10 game. The first thing he does is study the scouting reports.

“He’s in the game right now,” Carrasco said. “The way he is hitting right now, he’s pretty hot. It’s fun to watch.”

After Alvarez’s second homer, New York’s bullpen had a tough time holding the lead in the top of the seventh, as Chicago strung together a five-run rally against three relievers. Yasmani Grandal highlighted the scoring with a two-run single off right-hander Trevor Gott.

But ultimately, David Robertson earned his 13th save of the season, navigating a hairy ninth inning to bring home the victory for Alvarez and the Mets.

“You could tell pitching was going to be a challenge -- not for everybody," Showalter said. "There are going to be a lot of runs scored. Adding on runs [helped].”