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Maturing Alvarez fueling Pittsburgh’s playoff push

Fri., Aug. 31, 2012

PITTSBURGH – There’s a sound that comes off Pedro Alvarez’s bat when the Pittsburgh Pirates’ third baseman is feeling it that can send a jolt through a stadium and a franchise trying to escape two decades of losing.

It’s not so much a “crack” as it is an explosion, a blast of fury in which the 25-year-old former first-round pick makes sending pitches to the distant part of ballparks look almost effortless.

It’s the kind of power that can carry a team, the kind the Pirates have desperately needed while fighting for their first postseason berth in two decades.

Alvarez drilled three homers and drove in seven runs during a spectacular 27-hour stretch Tuesday and Wednesday as the Pirates shut out St. Louis twice to end a perilous freefall and pull back within a game of the Cardinals for the National League’s final wild-card spot.

“Every once a while when he shows up like that he’s the big kid on the playground,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

One the Pirates need to be a bully over the last five weeks of the season if they want to make the playoffs for the first time since 1992. While MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen has cooled off in August, Alvarez and Garrett Jones have provided the middle of the lineup with some needed thump.

Alvarez is hitting .280 during the season’s second half and has already smashed a career-high 26 home runs heading into Friday’s game in Milwaukee. While he remains streaky – Alvarez is fourth in the N.L. in home runs per at-bats but has also endured a pair of 20-game homerless droughts – when he’s hot he’s one of the toughest outs in the game.

It’s a lesson St. Louis pitcher Joe Kelly learned on Wednesday. He tried to sneak an 82 mph curveball past Alvarez in the third inning, and Alvarez turned on it and sent a shot to the right-field seats so quickly his bat had barely hit the ground when the ball landed 400 feet away.

Alvarez doesn’t have an explanation for why he torched the Cardinals this season, hitting .398 with seven homers and 23 RBIs in 15 games. He’s not really concerned about finding one either.

“The thing about comfort is that you don’t really think much when you’re up there and you feel comfortable,” Alvarez said. “When comfort and confidence go hand-in-hand, it does a lot for you.”

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