Pirates

Colin Dunlap: Alvarez Pushed Through Bad Times To Make This His Time

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(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

dunlap-head-shot Colin Dunlap
Weeknights, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Colin grew up in Sharpsburg and...
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This postseason has turned into Pedro Alvarez’s time.

No bull.

When the Pirates’ third baseman belted the go-ahead RBI single — in a lefty-lefty matchup — in the eighth inning of what became a 5-3 victory on Sunday night, Alvarez continued his penchant for playing biggest when this club has needed him most.

The RBI was his sixth of the postseason.

The hit propelled him to 4 for 10 in the playoffs, where he has two home runs and 11 total bases.

But, perhaps chief of all, his big bat shoved the Pirates to a 2-1 series lead as they now need one win in two chances against the Cardinals to advance to the National League Championship Series.

Immense talents show up at the most pivotal times — or at least that is what is supposed to happen.

That’s why a guy like Alvarez got that $6M signing bonus, to stand in that batter’s box in the eighth and make PNC Park explode to the point where it felt as if the National Guard might need to be called in.

But it hasn’t always been easy in his time here, since the Pirates made him their first-round pick in 2008.

In his short time in Pittsburgh, Alvarez has verified his place as one of the most polarizing figures in recent memory — if for nothing more than doing his job; being a power-hitter in the throes of cultivation.

In short, when he blasts one on a bounce into the rolling Allegheny, fans in this town want to get out the tickertape and form a procession.

Conversely, when he goes through a low spell, those same fans seemingly want him banished to Siberia.

Alvarez has heard the boos, he’s listened to the jeers, he remembers the catcalls and criticisms.

He can’t outrun a first 20 games this season where he hit .150, a stretch from mid-July to late-August where his average dropped 20 points, or those alarming — even for a power-hitter — 186 strikeouts on the season.

So how has he made sure to get through the rough patches?

How does a guy like Pedro Alvarez, who works for a chance like the one he cashed in on in the eighth on Sunday, make sure to not lose faith when he goes through interludes where he looks lost at the plate?

“With time, with repetition, with games, you learn to move on and 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, and you’re going to get the results you want in the game eventually,” Alvarez said. “And that’s the biggest thing, is not losing your confidence when things are down. Again, that’s one of those things that with time you start to learn as a player. You start to learn who you are as a person and as a player.”

No one can question Alvarez’s continued maturation as a player — and person — since his arrival in Pittsburgh.

And Alvarez’s maturation has seen a spike since Pirates manager Clint Hurdle took over for John Russell, who managed the club in the third baseman’s rookie season of 2010.

Since that 2010 season when he played just 95 games after a call-up, Alvarez has grown from a player still learning the rigors of day-to-day big league life to one who hit 36 home runs and drove in 100 runs this season.

In the last three games, he’s seemingly grown even more.

“You try and be a mentor to him and sometimes it’s what you heard from your dad, you know, sometimes they don’t know what’s best for them,” Hurdle said of guiding Alvarez through the struggles this season by, at times, giving him a planned day off. “And it’s a man up thing. I need to play. I need to stay in there and show I can get through the tough times. Agreed. Sometimes it’s my responsibility just to get them a breather, give them a chance to hit the restart button.”

Such a method, a masterful management of the low times for Alvarez by Hurdle can be plainly seen as something that has him ready for this postseason.

Asked after the game if Alvarez might be relishing this chance more than others within that Pirates clubhouse, Hurdle wouldn’t go so far as to offer a ranking system to the satisfaction.

He did say, however, “He’s trying to make adjustments and I think we’re seeing a lot of those adjustments more so this year than maybe we have in the past and we’re seeing some in the postseason. So yeah, they get your attention.”

Will all respect, Clint, Alvarez’s recent run has been able to do so much more.

It has made the Cardinals pay attention.

And, without question, it has made all of baseball pay attention.

This postseason has turned into Pedro Alvarez’s time.

No bull.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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