Pirates slugger Alvarez thriving in postseason spotlight

Travis Sawchik
| Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, 10:45 p.m.

With one out in the eighth and the score tied Sunday, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny slowly walked to the PNC Park pitcher's mound and motioned for left-hander Kevin Siegrist. With runners on first and second, left-handed Pedro Alvarez was due up for the Pirates.

It was textbook decision making.

The hard-throwing Siegrist limited lefties to a .118 average in the regular season. Alvarez hit .180 against left-handed pitching, fourth worst in baseball.

Alvarez defied the odds by sharply grounding a 95 mph Siegrist fastball into right field, scoring pinch runner Josh Harrison from second for the go-ahead run in the Pirates' 5-3 victory in Game 3 of the NL Division Series.

Alvarez continued his torrid postseason. He's driven in a run in every game and is 4 for 13 in the playoffs with two homers and five RBI.

After being booed in his home park during a horrendous April, he sent the raucous fans at PNC Park into a heightened state of frenzy in the eighth.

Perhaps as impressive as the physical execution was Alvarez's mental approach. Alvarez struggled earlier in the game, striking out in his first two at-bats. But he was able to put aside those experiences in the eighth — something Alvarez said he would have struggled with earlier in his career.

“It's one of those things with time, with repetition, with games, you learn to move on,” he said. “When the times are low, you just have confidence that the work you put in every day before the game is going to pay off. You try to play the game pitch to pitch.”

Alvarez knew the scouting report on Siegrist: He throws his mid-90s fastball 85 percent of the time. That was good news for the No. 2 overall pick from the 2008 draft, who has an alarming swing-and-miss rate of 43 percent against off-speed pitches this season.

Alvarez hunted fastball, and he pulled the third pitch he saw from Siegrist — all fastballs — into right field. The Cardinals did not have a shift on for the pull-heavy Alvarez.

“He's competitive,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said about Alvarez. “I think we're seeing a lot of those adjustments more so this year than maybe we have in the past.”

Not only did Alvarez defy the lefty-on-lefty odds, but the Pirates have flipped the regular-season script.

St. Louis led baseball in batting average with runners in scoring position (.330) this season. The Pirates ranked 26th (.229). But the Pirates are 6 for 18 (.333) with runners in scoring position in the NLDS; the Cardinals have gone 3 for 20 (.150).

Russell Martin followed Alvarez with an RBI single in the eighth, and he added a sacrifice fly in the sixth. Marlon Byrd delivered a two-out, two-run single in the first.

But no player has been more responsible for the RISP spike than Alvarez.

“Every time he goes to the plate, you're expecting a homer or a big swing or something big out of him,” Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes said. “And he's answered.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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