Carlos Correa did not stand on the plate of the house and pointed his bat at the statue of Tony Gwynn beyond the middle field at Petco Park this Thursday afternoon. But he called his shot – somehow on his own team – and saved the Houston Astros season in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.
“I’m going to finish this,” Correa said as he told second baseman Jose Altuve, as they headed to the dugout for the bottom of the ninth inning. A game lesson from a coach, Alex Cintron, convinced Correa that he would hit a home run.
“I feel like my swing is in sync,” he said. “I feel like my rhythm is good. I want to drive a ball, and I feel I can do it.”
Correa connected to Nick Anderson, ending a 4-3 victory for the Astros hitter as they started here. George Springer beat John Curtiss ’first pitch for an elevated homer down the left field line, and Correa’s last development, to make center field, Houston the first team to hit the leadoff and walk-off homers in the same postseason game.
The Astros also tied a postseason record by using five rookie pitchers in a game, a relay through the first six and two-thirds entry before taking on James James and Ryan Pressly. The Astros allowed three solo homers, but no hits to runners in the scoring position.
“We need to do a little better work there: We can walk and create operations in many different ways, use our speed, be athletic,” Rays center fiasder Kevin Kiermaier said. “We need to get the base and put pressure on it at a better speed.” The Rays still lead the series, three games in two.
This was the rare game in October in which the team with the more homer lost; the difference was a two-run single by Michael Brantley in the second inning, between two explosions. Touching conditions were unforgiving, with afternoon shadows and waves of live arms. No Ritter hitter faced the same pitcher twice, nor did any of the first five hitters for Houston.
Correa was even more disappointed. After breaking Minnesota and Oakland in the first two rounds, when he hit .500, Correa was 2 for 14 through ALCS ‘first four games after landing in his first two and-bats of Game 5, he got a critical pointer from Cintron, the hitting coach.
“We have to fix you, you’re doing everything wrong,” Correa told Cintron to him, as the Astros came to bat in the middle of the innings. “You stand wrong on the plate, so you don’t see the ball, so you don’t drive it.”
Correa went straight to work, ducking into a tunnel for a hurried session in a batting cage with Cintron, holding her shoulders and hands to fix them. Cintron believes Correa closes her front shoulder and absorbs her strength.
“If you look at the pitcher and you’re too closed and your hands are too far away, your first move is far away – and you don’t want to be around the ball, you want to be inside the ball,” Correa explained. “Being a little more open has made my hands have space, and I can clear my hands to drive the ball.”
Cintron flipped about 10 balls into the cage to Correa, who immediately felt the difference. He lined up with his third at-bat but was encouraged to drive a good sinker up the middle.
Correa took a few more flips from Cintron the next inning, to keep the feeling. Cintron told him he looked ready to go to his next at-bat, and Springer said he would.
“As a hitter, there’s something that clicks, there’s something that will drive you away,” Correa said. “And I felt like that clicked me there.”
Maintaining a 3-3 tie at the top of the ninth, standing in a runner in seconds with fly outs by dangerous Randy Arozarena (hitting his sixth postseason homer in the fifth inning) and Austin Meadows.
Anderson stopped the Astros in the eighth order, but Correa had a plan. Anderson was one of the major restorations of the major, with a fastball that seemed to rise in the hitter’s eyes. After Alex Bregman came out, Correa decided to find a fastball and an account for its action.
“I was visualizing the pitch that I wanted; I was visualizing what I wanted to do with that pitch,” he said. “When you face a guy like Anderson, it’s a guy throwing a fastball with a 20-plus inches of hop. So I knew I had to climb here. My approach to going to the plate is to see it middle-out, and if the ball is present, swing over it, so that you can drive it and not miss it or make it worse. “
Anderson started Correa with two broken balls; the first was not answered badly, but Correa aggressively acted on the second, ahead of him for a strike. Anderson then fired a fastball at 96 miles per hour, up and away, and he knew he had given exactly what he wanted to Correa.
“After the pitch before, that curveball, it was a good sound,” Anderson said. “She sells for the heater all the time, I guess.”
The ball sailed towards a staircase across the center wall of the field, and Correa, who also won Game 2 of the ALCS last year with a homer off the Yankees’ JA Happ, joined Bernie Williams and David Ortiz as the only hitters with two games ending in postseason homers
Ortiz’s second came in 2004 ALCS, when the Boston Red Sox famously overcame a three-games-to-none deficit to beat the Yankees. They remain the only team to make such a comeback.
The Astros used that series for inspiration; Bregman shared a highlight film with teammates, including Correa, before the game on Wednesday. The Astros finished just half the work, and should win again on Friday to force a final on Saturday. Beginners from the opener – Blake Snell for Tampa Bay and Framber Valdez for Houston – will return to full rest for Game 6, if the Astros try to build their enticing survival.
“Boy, that would fall as one of the greatest games in history,” said Manager Dusty Baker, “and hopefully it will drop as one of the greatest returns in history after two more games.”