Yordan’s 3-HR game punches Astros’ 6th straight postseason ticket

HOUSTON — Any concerns about Yordan Alvarez’s hand ailment, which hampered the slugger over the past two months, went away as he bashed three homers in a game for the second time in his career. His 34th, 35th and 36th dingers of the season led the Astros to a 5-0 win over the A’s on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

Houston clinched a playoff berth with the win, making it the sixth straight season the Astros will play meaningful October baseball. The Astros have much bigger aspirations, though, as they are looking to claim the top seed in the AL and make it back to the World Series for the fourth time in the past six years. To do so, they need their best hitters to continue trending up.

It is safe to say that Alvarez is back to his early-season form, as he went 4-for-4 with three solo homers and a 109.3 mph single.

“Yordan was unbelievable,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “The balls he hit had a lot of mileage to them. We needed it.”

The 6-foot-5 slugger was once in the American League MVP conversation for his strong start to the season, posting a 1.064 OPS with 21 homers and 51 RBIs in his first 61 games. Alvarez was named the AL Player of the Month in June, when he hit nine homers and 28 RBIs in 23 games, but he found himself in a slump the following two months due to a right hand ailment:

July: .286/.432/.714, seven homers, 14 RBIs, 19 games
August: .234/.326/.312, one homer, 10 RBIs, 23 games

Alvarez is starting to show that he has fully recovered, as he is slashing .390/.500/.878 with 10 extra-base hits and 10 runs scored in his past 11 games.

“My body feels great,” Alvarez said in Spanish. “It hasn’t stopped feeling great the entire year, but it is no secret I have had to battle with hand issues. It’s not to justify the results I had then, but it did affect me a little bit. After a couple of days off, I felt a lot better.”

The power surge started early, as he hit a solo homer to center field at an exit velocity of 110.5 mph in the first inning.

Alvarez was nowhere near finished, as he clubbed two more solo moonshots to center field in his next two at-bats. He became the first player in franchise history to hit three home runs off the same pitcher in a game and the first Astro with a three-homer game since George Springer on Sept. 22, 2019.

“It’s special hitting one homer in a game, so imagine three,” Alvarez said. “I didn’t take a lot of swings in the cages or go out to do BP, and then I go out to do that. It was a special night for me.”

The homers weren’t wall-scrapers, either. Alvarez’s dingers on Friday went 434, 431 and 464 feet.

Alvarez is the only player to hit multiple 430-foot home runs in a game twice this season, which he first accomplished on May 30 — also against the A’s. The last player to send three homers 430 feet or farther in a game was Nelson Cruz, who did it on Sept. 25, 2019.

To give even more context on a historic night, the average distance of Alvarez’s homers was 443 feet, the second longest average in a three-plus homer game since 2015, when Trevor Story averaged 454 feet on Sept. 5, 2018, at Coors Field.

“It’s pretty cool when a Major League player can make other players be in awe,” said Justin Verlander, who tossed five no-hit innings. “It’s just incredible what [Alvarez] can do. I’ve only seen a few guys do what he can do, like [Miguel Cabrera’s] Triple Crown season and Jose Altuve.

“It seems like a few times a year, Yordan has his peers’ jaws drop. I would say that was a surprising night, but it wasn’t.”

The Astros sit at 95-50, and their magic number to clinch the American League West title for the fifth time in the past six seasons is at four after the Mariners fell to the Angels on Friday. Houston is also in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the AL, and the magic number to clinch it over the Yankees is at 10.