PITTSBURGH -- Throughout the years of long home runs, the streaks and slumps, Pedro Alvarez had a complicated relationship with Pirates fans.
"El Toro" returned to PNC Park for the first time on Tuesday with the Orioles, but he did not play. In Wednesday night's 5-3 loss, Alvarez started at first base and hit cleanup, logging two singles in four at-bats with a run scored. On defense, he started a nifty 3-6-3 double play that wiped out a potentially big first inning for the Bucs.
Despite the loss, the game was special for Alvarez. He received an unambiguously warm welcome back, including a video tribute, from fans and former teammates in the other dugout when he stepped to the plate in the second inning. Then he lashed a single through the Pirates' shift.
"I thought it was very classy on the Pirates' part," Alvarez said. "I'm not too much of an emotional guy, but that was pretty cool to get that kind of a reception from the organization and the fans. I've been receiving nothing but love ever since I got here."
Alvarez added: "It was really neat. I'm still having a hard time trying to put it into words, the good emotions that were going through me at the moment. Unexpected in the sense that, not that I didn't see it coming from them, but we're playing against each other, it's a game. The last thing you're gonna think of is, are they gonna do that for you? It definitely was an awesome experience."
Standing in the on-deck circle, Alvarez said, he heard "good stuff" while also noting "a couple of jokesters here and there." But for the most part, "It was positive messages and a lot of encouragement."
The old Alvarez surfaced when asked if it was "nice" to get a couple of hits.
"Nice to get a couple of hits anywhere," he said, all business again. "It doesn't add any specialness to any of it. My job day in and day out is to help this team win. It just so happens we were playing here today."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, "I thought he handled himself well [at first base]. I thought that was a nice moment with them remembering the good things Pete did here and may do again."
Alvarez faces an uncertain future. The free-agent-to-be turns 31 in February and almost certainly will not return to the Orioles. He learned to play right field in the Minors this season and dealt with it well, making the postseason International League All-Star team. Alvarez said the added versatility might help, "but whether teams want to take that into consideration is completely up to them."
Alvarez had plenty of big moments at PNC Park, especially during that special 2013 season when he helped the Pirates snap their streak of 20 straight losing seasons and reach the playoffs. This moment was big, too.
"I haven't been here in two years or so," he said. "In actuality, it didn't feel that long once I got out there."