Alvarez homers again, Astros top Mariners 4-2, lead ALDS 2-0

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HOUSTON — Yordan Alvarez and his mighty bat did it yet again, launching a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth inning off Seattle ace Luis Castillo that lifted the Houston Astros over the Mariners 4-2 on Thursday for a 2-0 lead in the AL Division Series.

Alvarez was the Game 1 hero with his gut-punch, three-run shot off reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray with two outs in the ninth inning that gave the Astros an 8-7 win in a game where they’d trailed by four.

Castillo, acquired from the Reds near the trade deadline and coming off 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball against Toronto in the wild-card round, gave up an early home run to Kyle Tucker but little else as he took a 2-1 lead into the sixth.

But with two outs, Jeremy Peña singled on a blooper that fell in between second baseman Adam Frazier and center fielder Julio Rodríguez. Castillo bent down and slapped his legs in disappointment as he watched the ball drop in shallow center.

That brought up Alvarez, who hit a 98 mph pitch tailing away to the opposite field, into the short porch in left to put the Astros on top 3-2.

Alvarez, who had 37 homers in the regular season, trotted around the bases as cameras panned to his Cuban parents, who are watching their first postseason series after arriving in Houston in August. The lefty pointed to them as he reached the plate before reenacting the powerful swing that has the Astros one win away from their sixth straight AL Championship Series.

There were two outs and a runner on first in the eighth when Seattle had surely seen enough of Alvarez leaving the yard. The Mariners intentionally walked him and Alex Bregman made them pay, adding some insurance when he singled to make it 4-2.

Houston starter Framber Valdez had a solid start, allowing four hits and two runs in 5 2/3 innings. He had a different look than he did in his last postseason appearance after he and fellow pitcher Luis Garcia both got hair extensions this season.

Hector Neris got the win after getting the last out of the sixth inning to escape a bases-loaded jam. Bryan Abreu got the first two outs of the seventh before Rafael Montero came in and threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

Ryan Pressly walked the leadoff batter in the ninth before J.P. Crawford lined into a double play. Rodríguez doubled after that, but Pressly struck out Ty France for the save. The Astros won despite issuing seven walks overall.

The Mariners will head back to Seattle for Game 3 Saturday in a huge hole in the best-of-five series as they host their first playoff game in 21 years.

Alvarez has carried the Astros early in this division series, shouldering such a load that Houston catcher Martín Maldonado asked Alvarez after Game 1 if his back was sore because “you carry us as a team.” The 25-year-old bounced back this postseason after a tough time in last year’s World Series where he batted just .100 with no homers and six strikeouts.

The slugger who’s been criticized for poor defense in the past has been making big plays in left field, too.

Alvarez grabbed a sharp liner hit by Eugenio Suarez to end the seventh. In Game 1, he fielded a single by Suarez in the fourth and threw a perfect strike to Maldonado, who tagged out France at the plate.

Castillo yielded five hits and three runs with seven strikeouts in seven innings.

There was one out in the second inning when Tucker hit a slider from Castillo into the seats in right field to put Houston up 1-0.

Crawford doubled with two outs in the third. But second baseman Jose Altuve made a leaping throw after fielding a sharp grounder hit by Rodríguez that just beat him to first base to end the inning.

Suarez walked with one out in the fourth and Mitch Haniger doubled. Carlos Santana then hit a one-hopper that Valdez fielded cleanly toward the third base side, but his throw home was offline for an error that allowed Suarez to tie it at 1-all.

Santana was out on the play after getting caught in a rundown. Haniger scored when Dylan Moore singled to put the Mariners up 2-1.

Valdez walked Haniger on a full count with two outs in the sixth, Santana doubled and Moore drew a walk to load the bases and chase Valdez. Neris took over and retired Cal Raleigh on a groundout to escape the jam.

UP NEXT

Houston’s Lance McCullers Jr., who started just eight games this season after missing the first four months of the year with a forearm strain, will oppose rookie George Kirby in Game 3 in Seattle Saturday. Kirby pitched in relief in Game 2 of the wild-card round and became the first rookie in MLB history to record a postseason season in his first career relief appearance.

Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.