A Homer for the Ages
This was, by the math, the most game-changing home run ever hit in the postseason, but it didn’t exactly feel that way. You can’t blame Yordan Alvarez for that. It’s not his fault, as Fezzik says in “The Princess Bride,” that he’s the biggest and the strongest.
Instead, when Alvarez detonated that 117-mph, 438-foot monstrosity off Seattle’s Robbie Ray on Tuesday to cap off an all-time Houston comeback, well, the word that comes to mind is “inevitable.” I suppose the game could have ended some other way, maybe even should have ended some other way .But once Alvarez stepped into the box, all other possibilities receded. You knew it before it happened.
We should talk about the history because Alvarez’s three-run walk-off homer is a postseason first. We might not think about it, but many of the most famous home runs in postseason baseball — Carlton Fisk’s wave-it-fair blast, Bill Mazeroski’s shot to beat the Yankees, Chris Chambliss’ run-through-the-crowd crusher — came with the score tied. This is not to downplay the awesomeness of those moments, but without the homers, those games just go on.
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Before Alvarez, there had only been three October walkoffs that actually turned the score around. Probably the least known of these came in 1986, Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, when the Mets trailed the Astros 5-4 with one out and one runner on. That’s when Lenny Dykstra hit the game-winning home run off Dave Smith.
Probably the best known of these came in 1988, World Series Game 1, when the Dodgers trailed Oakland by a run with two outs in the ninth and Kirk Gibson hit the “I do not believe what I just saw,” walkoff home run off Dennis Eckersley and then limped his way around the bases.
And certainly the most impactful of these came in 1993, Game 6 of the World Series, when Toronto trailed by a run and Joe Carter hit the “touch ‘em all, Joe” homer off Mitch Williams to walk off the World Series against Philadelphia.
But you will notice something. Of these, only Gibson’s came with two outs. And in all the cases, the team was trailing by just one run. That puts Alvarez’s moment in a slightly different category. His Astros were trailing by two runs. And there were two outs. The only other home run I can come up with that is even comparable in terms of mathematical drama is one you might have heard something about, 1951, Giants trailing the Dodgers 4-2, Bobby Thomson steps to the plate against Ralph Branca, the pennant on the line.
But, two things about the Shot Heard Round the World.
It technically was a regular-season home run; the Giants and Dodgers played a three game play-off because they had tied for the pennant.
There was actually only one out.
So, yeah, Alvarez’s homer is unique in baseball’s postseason history: Stuff like this doesn’t happen. So why did it seem so bound to happen? I think that comes down to the sheer brilliance of Yordan Alvarez. He’s 6-foot-5, 225 pounds and he seems way bigger than that when you see him in person. And he’s a hitting genius. There’s no way to get him out. He hits righties, he hits lefties, he hits in the day, he hits at night, he hits when the roof’s open, he hist when the roof’s closed, he hits fastballs, he hits sliders, he hits with runners on, he hits with the bases empty, he hits change-ups.
You can’t throw it by him and you also can’t fool him.
So, when Mariners manager Scott Servais faced his nightmare scenario — having to get Yordan Alvarez out to seal a game that the Mariners had led by four runs on three different occasions — he decided to bring in left-handed starter Robbie Ray. I’m not going to lie, even in the moment this seemed like the worst of all options. Robbie Ray is a fine pitcher, he won the Cy Young Award just last year, but in his extensive baseball career he had never once been brought into anything even close to a situation like this. Not once.
IN FACT, even as a starter he’s never faced a situation like this. He’s only completed one game in his entire career, and that was a complete -game shutout he threw in Pittsburgh back in 2017. He’s never had to get one guy out in the ninth inning to win the game. This seemed a hell of a time to ask him to do it.
Even beyond that, Ray’s most glaring flaw as a pitcher is his tendency to give up the long ball — he gave up 32 of them this year, second-most in the league. He has not, even in a tiny sample size, shown any noticeable ability to get Alvarez out (in five previous encounters, Alvarez went one-for-three with two walks). Alvarez, as mentioned, hits lefties about as well as he hits righties.
I’m not sure at all what Scott Servais saw happening here.
But to be fair to Servais, it probably wouldn’t have mattered who was pitching. The Mariners had their chances. They were up 7-3 going into the eighth. Then reliever Andrés Muñoz, who throws the most unhittable stuff imaginable, gave up a two-run homer to Alex Bregman. The Mariners still led by two going into the ninth. But then reliever Paul Sewald hit David Hensley’s jersey with a pitch and he gave up a single to Jeremy Peña. That’s what lost them the game.
The only sure way to stop Yordan Alvarez is to not let him come up in the first place.
I know you hate it, Joe, as you have made abundantly clear, but they could have walked him...
I'm an M's fan, so take this with a rather large grain of salt, but: The stats are one thing and the story is another.
Yes, in '93, Game 6, Joe Carter hit a HR and the Blue Jays beat the Phillies to win the World Series. But you could feel it coming a mile away. You knew it. Plus the Jays had won it the year before. The Phillies were this ragtag team of misfits that shouldn't have come close to the Series but were there nonetheless. They were the massive underdogs. Carter's homer meant the overdogs won. Again.
That's Alvarez's homer. I could feel it coming a mile away. And it meant that the team that has won three pennants and one championship in the last six years, and has made the LCS every year since 2017, beat the team that hadn't made the playoffs since 2001. Yay. The rich got richer. Stop the presses.
Maz beating the Yankees—that's a homer for the ages. This thing? It's less than Joe Carter. It's just another sad day in sports.