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Alexander: An Olympic-sized moment for Dodger callup

LOS ANGELES – Is it crazy to suggest that Olympic competition could ever be only an athlete’s second-biggest thrill, or even third?

Eddy Alvarez’ Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium might test the theory.

To now, his notoriety is mainly that as a dual silver medalist, earning a team silver as a speed skater in the 5,000-meter relay in the 2014 Winter Olympics and another with the U.S. baseball team at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games last summer. But Sunday, before a full house in a big early season series, may have at least caught both of those experiences on the excitement meter.

Alvarez, called up Friday by the Dodgers and making his first career start at third base, made a diving stop and throw in the fourth inning to rob Eduardo Escobar of a hit. But that was topped in the ninth inning, when he ripped a single to center – 101.4 mph exit velocity – on the first pitch to him from Seth Lugo to score Chris Taylor with the tying run with one out left to the Dodgers.

“They were kind of beating me with fastballs all day, so I knew I wanted to be aggressive first pitch because they were throwing a lot of first-pitch strikes to me,” Alvarez said. “So I just put a good enough swing on it, got it by (shortstop Francisco Lindor) and, you know, gave our team the best chance.

“It’s incredible. I’m gonna cherish this forever.”

That hit, and that ninth-inning rally, was the high point in what was an excruciating and ultimately unfulfilling afternoon for the Dodgers. The Mets scored three in the eighth to wipe out a 2-1 lead that had been created by Trea Turner’s two-run homer in the first. New York scored in the 10th when J.D. Davis doubled home ghost runner Pete Alonso, and the Dodgers left their ghost runner on third in the bottom of the inning to give the Mets a 5-4 victory and a split of this clash of the National League titans.

This series may have been a measuring stick, with the Mets demonstrating they can go toe-to-toe with the Dodgers and, just maybe, Steve Cohen’s $287.9 million 40-man payroll (according to Cot’s Contracts) goes just a teensy, weensy bit further than Guggenheim Baseball’s $302.3 million.

It could also be a preview of a postseason series over which TV executives would be salivating, the nation’s two major markets creating some fun and entertaining if gut-grinding moments.

That’s in the future. In the present, Alvarez had his first big-time moment as a Dodger, with family and friends on-site to witness it. And, well, how does it stack up against competing with worldwide attention on you?

“Ooh, good question,” he said.

“You know, every game feels like it’s the Olympics here, so it’s very similar. We had 30,000 fans screaming in a nice arena. And you know, when you put 60-70,000 out in the stands here, it kind of feels like the same energy. Plus, just the atmosphere and the love that the city has for this team. It’s incredible to play in front of.”

Actually, it was only 48,672 Sunday afternoon. But when Dodger fans get going, it can sound like 70,000.

Alvarez was recalled from Oklahoma City Friday, where he’d been stinging the ball in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League: A .304 batting average, eight doubles, four triples, five homers and 22 RBI. He had a torrid May with seven doubles, two triples, two homers, 15 RBI and a .350/.464/.563 slash line.

Prior to this his major league success had been limited, with a .186 average in 37 games over the 2020 and ’21 seasons with the Marlins. He’d been kicking around the minors since 2014, most of that time in the White Sox organization, following his first Olympic experience.

The Dodgers signed him as a minor league free agent last November, and he had the benefit of some extra personal attention at Camelback Ranch.

“That was part of the deal,” he recalled. “I flew out to Arizona, worked with Will Rhymes (the Dodgers’ director of player development) and a lot of the hitting coaches over there and just kind of revamped my swing. I’ve always been a good bat-to-ball kind of guy, (but) just haven’t seen the consistency in the big leagues. And now I’m trying. I’m going to do my best to be as consistent as possible.”

Trea Turner had seen him from the other side of the field when he was with Washington and Alvarez with Miami, and knew of him from friends in the White Sox organization.

“But spring training, I was definitely really impressed by him,” Turner said. “He played really well in spring training, and then you look at the scoreboard and they had his numbers from Triple-A right up there. He’s hitting really good, and then he comes up here and does the same thing, plays good defense, gets some knocks and just puts good at-bats together.”

And, noted manager Dave Roberts, “the moment is never going to be too big for him, obviously, given his history. So you don’t worry about that. Just seizing an opportunity.”

Alvarez pinch-hit Saturday night and grounded out. He struck out swinging in his first at-bat Sunday in the second against Trevor Williams, but led off the fifth with a single, and that got his cheering section in the ballpark excited.

“My sister, my brother-in-law, my niece, my parents, my wife, my son,” he said. “And then I just saw the text messages from family and friends doing watch parties. It’s been incredible, the support I’ve had.”

There are no promises here, of course, with a stacked lineup and the expectations that come with it. But at least everyone else in that dugout can be sure he won’t shrink from the moment.

“Just to crack this roster and to be a little piece of the algorithm is incredible,” he said. “So I’m going to count my blessings and I’m going to do what I can.”

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