Alvarez (3 hits, 3 RBIs) unleashes in Game 5

October 22nd, 2021

BOSTON -- Chris Sale was cruising on Wednesday in a way he hadn't since, arguably, before his Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2020.

Until he ran into .

Houston’s slugging designated hitter tagged Sale for the only hits that Boston’s ace surrendered, which led to three of the lefty’s four runs allowed, and carried the Astros to a 9-1 win over the Red Sox in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park.

Alvarez, who hadn’t faced Sale before Game 1, hit a leadoff solo homer to open the scoring in the second inning, a single in the fourth, then a dagger of a two-run double in the sixth that pushed the Astros to a 3-0 lead and ended Sale’s night.

“I’ve seen him throw a lot before,” Alvarez said through team interpreter Andrew Dunn-Bauman. “I hadn’t faced him, but I had seen him throw a lot. As a lefty, especially the angle he throws, [he] can make it a little bit uncomfortable. … I was super happy to be able to produce when my team needs me.”

All three of Alvarez’s hits were to left field, marking the first time he’s had that many to the opposite field in a single game, including the homer that cleared the Green Monster. Alvarez has always hit lefties well -- he had an .881 OPS and 13 of his 34 homers against them this season -- but Sale has never been as vulnerable against lefty batters.

In the regular season, Sale allowed four hits total -- three singles and a double -- to lefty hitters in 42 2/3 innings. And Wednesday marked just the fourth time that a lefty had tagged him for that many hits in a game. The last? Red Sox icon David Ortiz on July 30, 2015.

“The only thing that surprises me about Yordan is the amount of talent that guy has,” Astros first baseman said. “To be able to hit a ball out like that -- against one of the best left-handers in the game -- to be able to connect on a pitch like that just shows the amount of talent he has.”

Gurriel went on to point out that the best is likely still to come for the 24-year-old Alvarez, who won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2019 and continues to blossom into a more cerebral hitter. Wednesday’s sequences were a perfect example.

A look at the pitch and hit locations for the three hits that Alvarez had against Sale in ALCS Game 5.

Each of Alvarez’s hits against Sale came on high-90s fastballs, all in a hitter's count. The homer and double, which did the most damage, were ambushed on the first pitch. The single, which came while the Astros held just a one-run lead and with Alex Bregman on first base, was in a full count. All three heaters were on the outer part of the plate, and Alvarez drilled them with authority -- without swinging out of his shoes.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to the kid,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “He didn't try to do too much.”

That’s precisely what Alvarez intended.

“Just to be aggressive with him,” Alvarez said of Sale. “Be aggressive with him, look for a fastball.”

Cora’s decision to stick with Sale the third time through the order, especially given how apprehensive teams are to do so at this time of year, was a critical component, too. But the logic seemed sound, and Sale has been his ace before, even if he hasn’t quite looked the part since returning in August. Cora trusted the southpaw to navigate through not just Alvarez, but also lefty-hitting in that fateful five-run sixth.

“Sometimes we get caught up too much on the third time through the order,” Cora said. “He was throwing the ball great. The stuff was really good. He was throwing 97 with a good slider. I understand how people think, but there were two lefties coming up, too, in that pocket, right? … He is Chris Sale. He is a lefty. He has made a living getting lefties out.”

Alvarez’s early run support was just as critical in backing , who became the first Houston starter to clear the third inning. The runaway sixth allowed the lefty to go all the way through eight. Playing with such drastic deficits proved to be the Astros’ pitfall in Games 2 and 3, when Boston was crushing grand slams at an historic rate.

But in Game 5, Houston gave the Red Sox a taste of their own medicine, thanks to a big night from its biggest bat. Now, Alvarez and the Astros are on the cusp of claiming the AL pennant.