Stand up and cheer for this 'ballsy' San Francisco Giant originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
This is a story about two balls, one strike and a whole lotta courage.
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The San Francisco Giants come to Citizens Bank Park on Monday night and one of their guys deserves an appreciative embrace as he returns to Philadelphia.
Stand up and salute Jose Alvarez.
Do it when he walks from the dugout to the bullpen with the rest of the Giants relief pitchers. Do it from Ashburn Alley, above the visiting bullpen.
Just do it, as the commercial used to say.
Middle relievers are the most anonymous players in the game and throughout his time with the Phillies in 2019 and 2020, Alvarez was a pretty anonymous guy, flying under the radar even though he was one of the few arms getting outs in a bullpen that, as we all know, had trouble getting them.
On August 20 of last season, Alvarez got his last out with the Phillies.
And he also surrendered his anonymity.
"Not many people know me, but after that play they did," Alvarez said with a laugh during a recent telephone conversation. "They'd say, 'Oh, you're the guy who got hit in the balls.'
"People make jokes and it doesn't bother me. We can laugh about it now, but it was pretty painful and serious at first."
So serious that the left-hander feared losing his right testicle.
The video of the painful event is not hard to find. The Phillies were playing the Toronto Blue Jays in the first game of a doubleheader in Buffalo. It was the fifth inning and the Phils were up, 2-1, with a runner on first base and two outs. Manager Joe Girardi brought Alvarez into the game to face lefty-swinging Joe Panik. The Jays countered with right-handed pinch-hitter Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Alvarez needed just two pitches to retire Gurriel. It would turn out to be his last out with the Phillies. And the most painful of his career.
The ball came off Gurriel's bat at 105 mph, 10 mph harder than what official stat-keepers consider to be "hard hit." It struck Alvarez, just 60 feet away, on a line in the groin. Direct hit. And he was not wearing a protective cup. Every person watching on TV in the course of about two seconds winced in pain then marveled in respect as Alvarez somehow scrambled to retrieve the loose ball and flipped it to first base for the third out before collapsing face down on the infield grass in intense pain.
Medical personnel tended to Alvarez on the field and he was whisked away on a golf cart and taken to the hospital, never to be seen by Phillies fans again.
Until Monday night.
The blow ended Alvarez' season. He finished with eight appearances and allowed just one run. The previous season, 2019, he took the ball 67 times for Gabe Kapler and had a 3.36 ERA. Alvarez had joined the Phillies the previous offseason from the Angels, in a swap for another reliever, Luis Garcia. It turned out to be an excellent pickup by Matt Klentak.
Alvarez, 31, lingered long on the free-agent market this winter before signing a one-year deal with the Giants, now managed by Kapler. He has no lingering effects from the line drive to the groin.
But that doesn't mean he didn't go through an ordeal.
That first hour after "the accident," as he calls it, was extremely painful as he was treated at the hospital. He couldn't immediately get to a phone to call his wife, Kay, who he knew was watching the game on TV at home in Orlando and would surely be worried. Eventually, Alvarez was released from the hospital and returned to the ballpark as the second game of the doubleheader was ending. He was able to call his wife and accompany the team on the flight to Atlanta that night. He landed to a nice voicemail from Gurriel.
"I was very thankful for that," he said.
Alvarez is a quiet, pleasant man, well-liked and respected by teammates. Even after a doubleheader sweep that day in Buffalo, everyone was thrilled to see him back in the clubhouse. Once it was determined that he was still the man he used to be, the jokes started rolling.
"They called me Iron Balls," he said with a laugh.
Someone took a Sharpie to a baseball, wrote "105 mph" on it and placed it in Alvarez' locker.
Alvarez rolled with all the jokes, but he knew he wasn't out of the woods. He was still in a lot of pain. The team scheduled for him to see a specialist in Atlanta the next day. An ultrasound was performed. The doctor did not like what he saw.
"He said he needed to open it up to see the damage," Alvarez said. "If nothing was wrong, he'd close it right back up."
The pitcher hoped for the best but deep down inside ...
"I was scared I'd lose the testicle, for sure," he said.
The surgery was performed.
"When he opened me up, he saw there was a crack in the testicle, but everything else was OK," Alvarez said. "They fixed the crack and closed me up."
Alvarez headed to home Orlando to recuperate. It was a difficult time physically and emotionally. He'd never been on the injured list in his workhorse career. He missed being around his teammates. It helped that he could be home with Kay and their two-year-old, Emma, but telling his daughter, "Oh, be careful, please don't jump on me," was difficult.
Alvarez spent a month recovering and his follow-up exams all went well.
"Everything is normal now," he said, offering that maybe someday Emma will have a little brother or sister.
While still on the injured list, Alvarez was able to rejoin the Phillies for the final weekend of the 2020 season in Tampa. He threw some bullpen sessions, wearing a protective cup, which has now become part of his regular equipment. He may have been ready to be activated if the Phillies had made the playoffs, but not everybody in that 2020 bullpen pitched as well as Alvarez and the team, of course, did not make the playoffs.
The Phillies showed only minimal interest in re-signing Alvarez this winter.
"I really liked my time there," he said. "I liked the fans and my teammates. They're my friends.
"I think maybe they offered a minor-league contract. I'm not sure. I understand. It's a business."
And sometimes business hurts like a ...
Jose Alvarez is one tough nut.
He takes a 105-mph line drive in the privates and still has the presence of mind and courage to make the play and get the out to preserve a one-run lead.
Citizens Bank Park.