HOUSTON – Yordan Alvarez and his mighty bat did it again, hitting a two-run homer in the sixth inning against Seattle ace Luis Castillo that lifted the Houston Astros from the Mariners 4-2 on Thursday for a 2-0 advance in the AL Division series.
Alvarez was the hero of Game 1 with his punch and three-pointer against defending AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray with two ninth-inning strikeouts that gave the Astros an 8-7 victory in a match where they had been led by four.
With Thursday’s home run, Alvarez became the first player in major league playoff history to hit multiple career home runs in the sixth inning or later when his team was trailing, and both have come in his last two games, according to ESPN. Search for statistics and information.
Castillo, acquired from the Reds near the trade deadline and after 7⅓ innings of shutout against Toronto in the wildcard round, gave up an early home run to Kyle Tucker but nothing else as he took a lead 2-1 in the sixth.
But with two out, Jeremy Peña picked a simple blooper that fell between second baseman Adam Frazier and center fielder Julio Rodríguez. Castillo leaned over and kicked his legs in disappointment as he watched the ball drop into a shallow cross.
That brought Alvarez, who hit a 98 mph pitch following the opposite court, into the small left porch to put the Astros up 3-2.
Alvarez, who hit 37 regular-season homers, trotted around the bases as the cameras turned to his Cuban parents, who are watching their first postseason streak after arriving in Houston in August. The southpaw pointed at them as he reached for the plate before reenacting the powerful swing that carried the Astros to a victory in their sixth consecutive AL Championship Series.
There were two outs and a runner first in the eighth as Seattle had surely seen enough of Alvarez leave the court. The Mariners intentionally walked it and Alex Bregman made them pay, adding some insurance when he singled to make it 4-2.
Houston starter Framber Valdez got off to a good start, allowing four hits and two runs in 5⅔ innings. He looked different than he did in his last playoff appearance after he and fellow pitcher Luis Garcia both got hair extensions this season.
Hector Neris picked up the win after earning the final out of the sixth inning to escape a goal-laden jam. Bryan Abreu got the first two outs of the seventh before Rafael Montero came on and pitched 1⅓ innings scoreless.
Ryan Pressly walked the leadoff batter in the ninth before JP Crawford went on a double play. Rodríguez doubled after that, but Pressly struck out Ty France for the stoppage. The Astros won despite seven walks in total.
The Mariners return to Seattle for Game 3 on Saturday in a huge hole in the best-five series as they host their first playoff game in 21 years.
Alvarez carried the Astros early in this split series, carrying such a load that Houston wide receiver Martín Maldonado asked him after Game 1 if he had back pain because “you carry us as a team.” The 25-year-old rebounded in the playoffs after a tough run in last year’s World Series, when he batted just .100 with no home runs and six strikeouts.
The slugger, who has been criticized for his poor defense in the past, also made big plays in left field.
Alvarez caught a sharp liner hit by Eugenio Suarez to finish the seventh. In game one, he fielded a single from Suarez in the fourth and delivered a perfect strike to Maldonado, which scored France at the plate.
Castillo drove in five hits and three runs with seven strikeouts in seven innings.
There was one in the second inning when Tucker hit a Castillo slider into the right field seats to put Houston up 1-0.
Crawford doubled with two outs in the third. But second baseman Jose Altuve made a bouncing throw after lining up a snap from Rodríguez who just beat him at first base to end the inning.
Suarez walked one out in the fourth and Mitch Haniger doubled. Carlos Santana then hit a jump that Valdez lined up cleanly to the third base side, but his home throw was off the line for an error that allowed Suarez to tie it at 1-all.
Santana was absent from the game after being caught in a debrief. Haniger scored when Dylan Moore singled to give the Mariners a 2-1 lead.
Valdez walked Haniger on a full count with two outs in the sixth, Santana doubled and Moore walked to load the bases and chase Valdez. Neris took over and retired Cal Raleigh to a floor to escape the jam.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.