In the movie "Crazy, Stupid, Love," Ryan Gosling plays a womanizer named Jacob Palmer whose only goal in life seems to be to bed as many women as humanly possible. One day, however, Jacob meets a girl named Hannah who represents the kind of relationship that he's secretly yearned for, and now he finds himself hopelessly in love. At one point during the movie, Jacob says of Hannah, "She's a real game changer."
Over the weekend, Pedro Alvarez, the Pittsburgh Pirates young slugger, showed everyone what kind of game-changer he can be by hitting four home runs and driving in nine runs in the last two games of the weekend series in Cleveland as the Pirates took two out of three from the Indians.
This wasn't the first time that Alvarez has displayed this kind of potential. He has shown the ability to go on these kinds of tears, and when he does, he's quite the difference-maker for the offensively challenged Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Pirates, who went into Cleveland with one of the worst lineups in baseball, looked like a completely different team with Alvarez leading the way, as they scored 18 runs over the last two games of the weekend series after getting shut out Friday night.
The good news is when Alvarez is on, he looks scary good, and his spurts of power sometimes last a week or so. The problem is, Alvarez has been off way more than he's been on during his short career, and when he does struggle, he looks almost helpless at the plate. He went into the Cleveland series batting .189, and there was even talk of sending him down to triple A Indianapolis.
To the team's credit, they've pretty much stuck with Alvarez through thick and thin, and for good reason. As I said, he's a game-changer, and the Pirates haven't had this kind of bat in their organization since, dare I say, the days of Willie Stargell.
I'm pretty confident they haven't had a guy who represents that kind of power since I've been following them, and my days as a die-hard fan go all the way back to the early 80's.
The Pirates have had some good players over the last couple of decades. Heck, Barry Bonds was great, and he was a perennial MVP candidate when he was with the Pirates, but even he didn't possess the raw power of a Pedro Alvarez (well, until he had that growth-spurt that is common for most guys in their mid-30's).
In the late 90's and 00's, players like Brian Giles and Jason Bay were also good all-around baseball players to a lesser degree than Bonds, and today, Andrew McCutchen is not only the best player on the team, but he's one of the best all-around talents in the game today.
However, there is no substitute in baseball for a big bopper in the middle of the lineup, and the fact that I can see that kind of potential in Alvarez is pretty darn exciting.
I'm a huge Steelers fan, and after Terry Bradshaw called it a career following the 1983 season, I spent two decades longing for the team to draft another franchise quarterback who was capable of leading it to a Super Bowl. When they drafted Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, and he was forced into the lineup due to injuries, you could see the raw talent that he possessed even though he didn't quite know what to do with it yet. I thought to myself, "That is what a franchise quarterback looks like. If he can find a way to reach his fullest potential, the Steelers will win a Super Bowl or two."
Well, during the course of Roethlisberger's second season, he began to put it all together, and the Steelers won their first Super Bowl in over a quarter of a century. A few years later, not only did the Steelers win another Super Bowl, Big Ben, an ever-maturing quarterback, actually led them to victory in the final moments.
Right now, I see in Alvarez as a power hitter what I saw in Roethlisberger as a quarterback during his first year or two.
If Alvarez can figure out a way to put it all together, he'll become that home run presence in the middle of the lineup that other teams must prepare for. He'll be to the Pirates what guys like Ryan Howard, Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols have represented for their teams over the years.
He'll be a real game-changer, and I don't just mean over the course of a nine-inning contest.
If Pedro Alvarez ever reaches his fullest potential, we won't be wondering if the Pirates can finally break their two-decade losing streak. We'll be preparing for pennant races and maybe World Series games.
Pedro Alvarez can be that kind of game-changer.
Let's hope he finds a way to put it all together.