Yordan Alvarez’s teammates had a feeling Sunday. They sensed the towering slugger, the favorite to win the American League rookie of the year, was bound to detonate in Game 5 of the World Series. Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz fronted the vocal charge. The former Dodgers farmhand was poised for a breakout. They just knew it. And they were right.
Alvarez fueled the Houston Astros’ offense with three hits, including a two-run home run off Joe Ross, in a 7-1 win over the Washington Nationals that gave Houston a three-games-to-two Series lead. The 22-year-old Cuban became the youngest American League player to homer in the World Series since 1957.
“Correa said it again after we got into the clubhouse,” Alvarez said. “‘See, I told you, this is the day.’”
Alvarez didn’t homer in his first 54 postseason plate appearances, a sizable drought for someone who clubbed 27 home runs in 87 major league games and 23 in 56 triple-A games during the regular season — one for every 12.44 plate appearances.
Usually the Astros’ designated hitter, he started on defense Sunday for the first time since the Series moved to Nationals Park and played with National League rules. He played left field. He will return to his DH role in Game 6 on Tuesday.
And if he has found his stroke after going one for 22 in the American League Championship Series, he presents another dangerous weapon in the Astros’ long lineup for the Nationals to confront when they face elimination in Game 6 on Tuesday. Alvarez is six for 11 (.545) in the World Series.
“He’s done this the whole year, but this postseason as he’s tried to find his way it was nice to see him stay within himself,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “And then the dugout actually exploded more when he caught the line drive in left field. Everybody was having a good time with him.”
Washington didn’t enjoy as much fun over the weekend. After stunning the Astros with wins against Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander to kick off the first World Series in franchise history, they netted three runs in the first three World Series games held in Washington since 1933. It is the fewest runs the Nationals have scored over three games this season. The timing was sub-optimal.
“They didn’t win  games for nothing,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “They’re really good. They’ve got a well-balanced lineup. Their pitching is good. Their bullpen gets outs. We knew this coming in.”
The Nationals can take comfort in two facts: They have already won twice at Minute Maid Park and Stephen Strasburg — barring another 11th-hour setback for Washington — will start Game 6. The right-hander has been the Nationals’ best pitcher in the playoffs, allowing six earned runs across 28 innings with a 40-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He held the Astros to two runs over six innings in Game 2.
If Strasburg can outduel Verlander, Max Scherzer could possibly return for Game 7 opposite Zack Greinke after getting scratched Sunday. It all depends on how Scherzer’s right arm reacts to the cortisone injection he received Sunday morning to relieve his debilitating neck spasms. If he can’t pitch, Anibal Sanchez would get the nod if he isn’t used as a reliever Tuesday.
“I’m just hoping that the doctors are right and that something could be possible for Game 7,” Scherzer said.
For the Nationals to reach that juncture, a winner-take-all for the championship, Strasburg and the bullpen must navigate a deep Astros offense that adds another layer if Alvarez can continue barreling baseballs. He is a luxury the Astros never imagined deploying on this stage this soon.
Alvarez signed with the Dodgers out of Cuba for $2 million in June 2016, but he wasn’t a highly touted prospect at the time. He was a 6-foot-5 teenager with, oddly, questionable power. Less than three months later, the Dodgers traded him to Houston for reliever Josh Fields at the Aug. 1 trade deadline. The clubs would meet in the World Series the following year.
Fields faced three batters in Game 2 of the 2017 World Series, a 7-6 Dodgers loss in 10 innings, in his only appearance of the Series. He allowed three hits and gave up two home runs. Two years later, after the Dodgers released Fields in March, Alvarez has helped nudge the Astros to within a victory of another World Series title. He was due in Game 5 and delivered. Another performance like that doesn’t bode well for the Nationals.
“I never thought that I’d be here in the big leagues at the biggest stage,” Alvarez said, “and performing at the biggest stage.”