When Garrett Jones was at the plate in the bottom of the tenth with two outs, down by two, and Andrew McCutchen at second base, I was thinking one thing: it would be great if the Pirates could get Pedro Alvarez to the plate as the potential winning run. It’s been a long time since the Pirates have had a player like Alvarez on their roster. By that I mean the Pirates haven’t had a guy where fans can be optimistic about a situation where the team is down by two runs, and down to their last out, so long as Alvarez is at the plate.
The expectations on Alvarez have been tremendous from the beginning. Ever since he was drafted, he has been viewed as the future savior of the Pirates. When he arrived, the expectations were borderline on the idea that he alone would immediately turn the Pirates in to winners. I also feel that if Alvarez hadn’t come through in that at-bat tonight, it would have been viewed as a bigger disappointment than anyone else on the roster not coming through, simply because deep down inside, all of us expect that out of him. That’s not to say it’s guaranteed in any way, but I don’t think there was a Pirates fan who didn’t think “There’s a good chance Pedro could win it with a walk-off here”.
Alvarez doesn’t have the strong overall numbers in the majors this season, although he is showing his potential. He’s only hitting for a .239/.313/.460 line, with ten homers in 163 at-bats. That’s a pace for 34 homers in a 550 at-bat season. That includes a rough stretch in his first two weeks, which saw him hit for a .114/.158/.171 line in 35 at-bats.
Alvarez is used to starting slow at every level. He’s done the same at each level in his professional career. However, his adjustment at the major league level might have been his quickest turnaround. After those 35 at-bats, Alvarez went on a tear, hitting for a .321/.389/.630 line in 81 at-bats over the next month, with seven homers in that span. Alvarez struggled for about a week at the end of July, getting one hit in his final 24 at-bats of the month, spanning seven games.
Perhaps that slow stretch was a result of Alvarez playing in too many games. Alvarez had a night off on June 27th, and the next day he started that month long tear, which also saw him start 28 games in a row until the end of July. After going 1-for-4 with three strikeouts on August 1st, Alvarez was given a day off, which was his first in 30 games. Since that day off, Alvarez has gone 7-for-19 with three homers, including a big three run homer to tie the game on Friday night, followed by his walk-off shot tonight.
You look at every contending team, and they’re led by at least one star player. The Pirates have had some good players in recent years, such as Jason Bay and Aramis Ramirez, but none of these players have been guys who could carry an offense. Alvarez could be that type of guy. He’s a rookie, and with just 163 career at-bats, he’s displaying a 34 home run pace. So far in his career, Alvarez has reached the point where he’s excelled at a level, and he’s moved on to a new challenge. There is nowhere to go from here. This is the top level, and Alvarez is already showing he belongs.
Alvarez is already starting to show signs of being the franchise player the Pirates and their fans envisioned when he was drafted in 2008, and he’s only a rookie. Just think what will happen as he continues to improve. The Pirates could finally have a star player on their hands, mentioned among the best in baseball, and capable of carrying the Pirates’ offense. If that ends up happening, we may end up getting spoiled with plenty of repeat scenarios like the one we witnessed tonight.