Yordan Alvarez stepped up to the plate to face White Sox reliever Garrett Crochet with a man on first and one out in the bottom of the ninth on Friday night.
Alvarez had yet to record a walk-off hit in his first three seasons with the club. But there it was -- a chance to complete another “first” in his short, three-year career.
“[The plan] was just not to get too desperate at the plate there or try to hit a home run or anything,” Alvarez said through a team translator. “Just wanted to make good, solid contact with the baseball.”
After taking an outside fastball for a called strike, Alvarez got his barrel on a low slider and drove it out to the right-field corner. The ball didn’t bounce off the wall back to Chicago right fielder Jake Lamb, giving Houston first baseman Yuli Gurriel enough time to make a dash to the plate.
“I didn't realize that Yuli had a chance to score on that ball,” Alvarez said. “When I got out there, I lifted my head up and saw that he was rounding third, and I thought, 'Wow. He has a chance to score here.’”
The relay throw from White Sox second baseman Danny Mendick wasn’t in time as Gurriel slid head-first across home plate, and the Astros poured out of the dugout to celebrate Alvarez’s first career walk-off in Houston’s 2-1 win at Minute Maid Park.
“I'm really happy with the moment right there. It's very special for me,” Alvarez said. “It was the first time that I felt that kind of emotion in a big league game. So I'm really happy to have had that experience.”
“I heard that was his first walk-off,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “It's hard to imagine, but hey, we'll take it.”
The victory came in support of rookie starter Luis Garcia, who pitched seven innings of one-run ball while striking out eight.
Things didn’t start off great for Garcia. He allowed three straight one-out hits to Chicago in the top of the first as Houston fell behind 1-0 right away, and he then had to escape from jams in the second and third innings. By the time the game moved to the bottom of the third, Garcia had thrown 53 pitches and had given up six hits and two walks.
But from there, Garcia was nearly unhittable. Over the ensuing four innings, the 24-year-old threw just 43 pitches and only allowed a two-out double to White Sox left fielder Andrew Vaughn in the sixth as he kept the Astros in a position to win.
“It was a rough first inning, but I was trying to be focused and keep doing what I was doing,” Garcia said.
Unfortunately for him, his opponent on the mound was dominant out of the gate.
White Sox starter Carlos Rodón retired each of the first 13 Houston batters, with Chas McCormick’s fourth-inning strikeout being the only at-bat to get to a three-ball count.
Rodón had thrown the second no-hitter in the Majors on April 14 against the Indians, and he took a no-hit bid to the seventh inning Sunday against the Tigers. On Friday, Rodón seemed to have everything working once again.
But in his first heroic moment of the game, Alvarez recorded the first hit off Rodón when he beat the shift with a soft grounder down the third-base line in the fifth. Another hit and two walks later, the Astros managed to tie the game on a night when offense was at a premium.
“It looked like it bothered him that he gave up a no-hitter, because I could tell he had no-hitter on his mind,” Baker said. “He had no-hit stuff.”
Once Garcia left the game, relievers Ryne Stanek and Ryan Pressly worked scoreless eighth and ninth innings, respectively, to set up the biggest moment of Alvarez’s career yet.
The walk-off double gave Houston its fifth-straight win and 14th over its last 18 games. Though the Astros haven’t been able to make up ground on the first-place A’s in the American League West, the victory provided more proof that this Houston team is a contender.
“That's what the game is about,” Alvarez said. “There's always going to be nights where not everybody is able to hit, so to have somebody that can find a way to come through big for us is what winning teams do.”