HOUSTON -- Just the presence of Yordan Alvarez in the lineup Monday night for the Astros -- the first game he had played in more than a week -- prompted pitcher Justin Verlander to mention to manager Dusty Baker in the first inning what a difference the slugger makes by just having his name in the cleanup spot.
“The next thing you know, he hits one out of the ballpark,” Baker said.
Alvarez returned to the Houston lineup with authority in the home opener at Minute Maid Park by clubbing a pair of two-run homers to lead the Astros to an 8-3 win over the Angels. Alvarez went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and the three hardest-hit balls of the game for his ninth career multi-homer game.
“He really makes a difference,” Baker said. “He’s right in the middle. He usually has somebody on base and when he hits them, usually there’s a no-doubter. We didn’t know if he got the second one or not because he hit that ball a little bit behind him, versus out in front. It just shows you how strong he is.”
Alvarez, who missed the final five games of Houston’s road trip with an illness that had him battling a fever four days in a row, crushed a Michael Lorenzen slider in the first inning and sailed it 415 feet into the upper deck in right field to put the Astros ahead, 2-0. The ball came off the bat at 107.5 mph.
“I was a little bit anxious to see what was going to happen,” Alvarez said. “It felt great. When I hit the ball, the stadium got super loud and excited. A great welcome back.”
His second homer came in the seventh inning off reliever Archie Bradley, who could only watch helplessly as Alvarez crushed a 95-mph fastball and sent it 429 feet into the Astros' bullpen in right-center field. The exit velocity was 104.2 mph.
The hardest-hit ball by Alvarez was actually a single in the fourth inning that was a scorching 109.6 mph off the bat.
“This guy can do some amazing stuff,” Baker said. “You like to see him smiling. Usually, he smiles when he does something good, just kind of stoic the rest of the time, but I mean he knows we need him and we love having him in there.”
Baker almost didn’t play Alvarez on Monday. The manager said Sunday he wanted to maybe give him another day to get in baseball shape, but when he asked Alvarez on Monday if he thought he should play against the Angels, he said he was good to go.
Alvarez began the season 2-for-14 with a homer in four games against the Angels.
“Boy, he came back better than when he left,” Baker said. “He was struggling a little bit when he left. He told me he was ready. So if he says he’s ready, I guess I gotta take his word, especially after tonight’s performance.”
Alvarez, who set career highs with 33 homers and 104 RBIs last year, was clutching a pair of bobbleheads and his 2021 American League championship ring as he left the Houston clubhouse. Alvarez was the MVP of last year’s ALCS, but Monday’s bobblehead giveaway was also in demand.
“My wife was the one that said, 'I want the bobblehead,'” he said.
The Astros are just grateful to have the real version of Alvarez back.