On the first pitch he saw to lead off the 11th inning, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa supplied a home run to right field, leaving no doubt and holding his hand up to his ear to hear the frenzied crowd at Minute Maid Park celebrate a Game 2 win that tied the American League Championship Series at one game apiece.
Coming into Sunday night's game against the New York Yankees, Correa knew his swing was getting closer to where it normally should be and his confidence was evident to his teammates as well.
“Yesterday I felt like my timing was getting back to where it should be,” Correa said after the game. “And then my cage work today was amazing. I was very confident going into the game that today was the day where I was going to break out.”
“He talked to me before the game and he was like, ‘Josie, I think I'm going to do something big tonight,’” second baseman Jose Altuve recounted of a pregame conversation with Correa. “He really did, and when we made the (throw in the sixth inning) I was like OK, that one was the thing he was talking about then he goes on the other side and hits a homer and I was like OK, I love him.”
The throw he alluded to was another key to the game which kept the score deadlocked at two on both sides in the top of the sixth.
A hot shot off the bat of Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner caught Altuve in between hops and ricocheted off his glove and dribbled toward Correa at shortstop who scurried over and fired a dart to Robinson Chirinos at home plate to prevent DJ LeMahieu from scoring the go-ahead run with two outs in the inning.
“As an infielder, I know how tough it is to catch a ball that’s on a line drive right at you in between,” Correa said. “So as soon as I knew that it was going to crash in between, I was creeping over. When it hit him and I saw the ball go my way I just went after it and I grabbed it and when I looked up and I saw he was sending the runner, I thought, ‘Oh, I got this guy.’
“So I threw him out. I don’t know why he sent him, but, thank you,” Correa said of Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin.
“Carlos is normally a good hitter but he was right there and plays great defense, he was aware of where the ball was and I was paying attention and he threw a strike to home plate and that was a key play for the game tonight,” Chirinos said from his perspective on the receiving end of the bullet of a throw. “Says a lot about Carlos in how he takes pride in his defense, he wants to be a complete player and that kind of play shows you he's right there in the game.”
That, on top of some stellar performances out of both bullpens, kept the game tied at two through the regulation nine innings and into extra innings until it was time for the ultra-confident Correa to stride to the plate with his swagger turned all the way up in front of the roar of the crowd who remained in their seats long into the night in the face Monday morning’s alarm clocks.
“It means the world to us to see all the guys out there, all the fans out there staying late,” Correa said. “It was Sunday, they’ve got to go to work tomorrow. It really means a lot to us. The energy they bring to us day-in and day-out has been unbelievable. We’ve never seen anything like it. It’s even better than ‘17. We’re very grateful and we hope to get going and seeing them out there.”
With that as his backdrop, he painted the night in celebration, lifting a fly ball to right field, as opposed to deep center where an earlier hit was caught, that he knew was not going to be hauled in.
“When I hit that ball I thought it was going to go,” he said of his first fly-ball out. “But I guess I’m not strong enough to go to that part of the ballpark. The last at-bat I had to take it to right field, it’s a lot closer.”
He elaborated, however, that in conversations with his teammates, he was certain this moment was bound to come.
“I told every hitter in the line that I was feeling great today and that my swing was back,” Correa said. “In that last inning, everybody was telling me, ‘You’re going to hit it, you’re going to hit a home run.’ Alex Cintron, our hitting coach, said, ‘Hey look for a fast one in the middle and take it deep.’”
That he most certainly did and took a moment to watch it fly and admire his work before cupping his ear to incite even more noise from the crowd while he rounded the bases, eventually turning his batting helmet into a basketball and burying a shot into the bucket (his teammates at home plate) to send the hometown fans away happy.
“As soon as I hit it I knew it was going to go over the fence. The adrenaline started pumping like crazy. I don’t even know what I did,” Correa confessed. “I’ve got to go watch the video but I know I was so hyped. Seeing my teammates running out of the dugout to the home plate while I was still standing there was pretty awesome. Obviously, it’s a moment that’s going to live with me forever.”
Of course, it only helps that his first two career postseason walk-off hits both came in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Yankees (2017 and 2019) to become just the second player in club history with multiple walk-off RBI in the postseason (Denny Walling’s single in Game 2 of the NLDS in 1981 and a sacrifice fly in Game 3 of the 1980 NLCS).
Sunday night’s win ties the best-of-7 series with Games 3, 4 and 5 set for Yankee Stadium in the Bronx this upcoming Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Gerrit Cole is slated to start for the Astros against New York’s Luis Severino with first pitch at 3:08 p.m.
Since the best-of-7 format was adopted in 1985, the team that has won Game 2 of the ALCS has advanced to the World Series 28 times in the 34 series, including 19 of the last 21.