HOUSTON — Yordan Alvarez and his mighty bat did it again, launching a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth inning off Seattle ace Luis Castillo who lifted the Houston Astros 4-2 over the Mariners 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 they had with four disadvantage.
With the home run on Thursday, Alvarez became the first player in major league postseason history to hit multiple starting home runs in the sixth inning or later when his team trailed, and he both appeared in his last two games, according to ESPN Statistics & Information research.
Castillo, who acquired from the Reds near the trade deadline and came out 7⅓ innings of a wild card round shutout ball to Toronto, gave up an early homerun to Kyle Tucker, but little else as he took a 2-1 lead in the sixth .
But with two outs, Jeremy Peña singled on a blooper that fell between second baseman Adam Frazier and centerfielder Julio Rodríguez. Castillo leaned over and kicked his legs in disappointment as he watched the ball drop into the shallow center.
That brought Alvarez, who hit a 98 mph field and stared off to the opposite field, to the short porch on the left to put the Astros on top 3-2.
Alvarez, who had 37 home runs in the regular season, trotted around the bases as cameras watched his Cuban parents watch 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 puts the Astros one win away from their sixth straight AL Championship Series.
There were two outs and a runner on first base in the eighth when Seattle saw sure enough that Alvarez left the field. The Mariners walked him intentionally 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 solid start, giving up four hits and two runs in 5⅔ innings. He looked different from his last appearance after the season, after he and fellow pitcher Luis Garcia both got hair extensions this season.
Hector Neris earned the win after taking the latter out of the sixth inning to escape a base jam. Bryan Abreu retired the side of the seventh before Rafael Montero came in and threw 1⅓ scoreless innings.
Ryan Pressly walked the lead-off batter in the ninth before JP Crawford lined into a double play. Rodríguez then doubled, but Pressly struckout Ty France to save. The Astros won despite walking seven overall.
The Mariners return to Seattle on Saturday for Game 3 to fill a huge gap in the best-of-five series as they host their first playoff game in 21 years.
Carrying the Astros early in this division series, Alvarez carried such a burden that Houston catcher Martín Maldonado asked him after Game 1 if his back hurt because “you carry us as a team.” The 25-year old recovered this postseason after a difficult time in last year’s World Series, when he hit only .100 without homeruns and struckout six.
The slugger who has been criticized in the past for his poor defense also made great plays on left field.
Alvarez grabbed a sharp liner that was hit by Eugenio Suarez to finish seventh. In Game 1, he singled by Suarez in the fourth and threw a perfect strike to Maldonado, who tagged out France at the plate.
Castillo gave up five hits and three runs, striking out seven in seven innings.
There was one out in the second inning when Tucker smashed a Castillo slider into the rightfield seats to give Houston a 1-0 lead.
Crawford doubled with two outs in the third. But second baseman Jose Altuve made a jumping throw after fielding a sharp grounder 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 an one-hopper that fielded Valdez neatly towards third base, but his throw home was offline due to an error that allowed Suarez to make it 1-all.
Santana was out of the game after getting caught up in a rundown. Haniger scored when Dylan Moore singled to give the Mariners a 2-1 lead.
Valdez walked Haniger with two outs in the sixth, Santana doubled and Moore walked to load the bases and chase Valdez. Neris took over and knocked out Cal Raleigh on a groundout to escape the jam.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.