For Carlos Correa, it was more than a feeling or a hunch. It was a belief. His swing was feeling great, the moment was primed for a hero and the Astros needed him more than ever before. Correa was so confident something was going to happen, he told manager Dusty Baker he was going to win the game when he stepped to the plate in the ninth inning Thursday.
“Carlos told me before he went up there, he goes: ‘Walk-off,’” Baker said. “I said, ‘Go ahead on, man.’”
Correa crushed a fastball from Rays reliever Nick Anderson and sailed it 416 feet over the center-field wall at Petco Park in San Diego for a walk-off homer to send the never-say-die Astros to a dramatic 4-3 win in what has suddenly become a tight American League Championship Series. The Rays lead the best-of-seven series, 3-2, heading into Friday’s Game 6.
“I knew I was going to end it,” said Correa, who also hit a walk-off homer in Game 2 of last year’s ALCS against the Yankees. “I could feel my swing was in sync. I could feel my rhythm was good, and I felt like I was going to drive the ball. I believed I could do it.”
The Astros are the 39th team in postseason history to fall behind 3-0 in a best-of-seven series, but they are now only the fourth to keep the series going to a Game 6. Of the previous three to survive that long, two lost Game 6 (the 1999 Mets vs. the Braves, and ‘98 Braves vs. the Padres, both in the NLCS). The other, the 2004 Red Sox vs. the Yankees in the ALCS, are the only team to ever win a series after dropping the first three games -- the blueprint that Houston is now just two wins away from replicating.
“I mean, we’re pretty happy in there right now, but we’re not finished,” said Astros closer Ryan Pressly, who got the final four outs. “We still got a lot of work to do. This team’s pretty resilient, and we show that day in and day out. You push our backs against a wall, we’re gonna fight you. This team was built with a bunch of fighters, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
After Correa finished his jubilant home run trot and emerged from a mass of teammates surrounding him at home plate, he found Baker and the two hugged emphatically. He reminded Baker of the promise he made a few moments earlier.
“It seems like he didn’t want to let go,” Correa said. “It was a special moment.”
As if the Astros needed motivation prior to Game 5, Alex Bregman rounded up some of his teammates earlier in the day to watch a documentary about the 2004 Red Sox and how they rallied from a 3-0 deficit to stun the Yankees. Correa watched intently.
“Super inspiring video,” he said. “It’s the only team that’s been able to do that. We won two games now, but we still have a long ways to go. We have to go out there tomorrow and take that game. We have a great team on the other side. They’re playing great baseball. Their pitching staff is unbelievable, but we have to find ways to win, and we were able to do that the last two games. And we have try to do that two more.”
“Any time you score right away, especially on that first pitch, you know Springer's the king of that,” Baker said. “I haven't been around anybody better at doing that.”
Correa’s homer came just in time to rescue the Astros, whose pitching was so thin they had Game 6 starter Framber Valdez warming up in the bullpen. Baker started the game with five consecutive rookie pitchers -- Luis Garcia, Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb and Brooks Raley -- and each held their own for seven innings. In the eighth, Ji-Man Choi hit a mammoth game-tying homer off veteran Josh James.
“Things couldn't have worked out any better at that time,” Baker said. “We were down to Framber was warming up. We were down to [Cy] Sneed. I think that might have been it. And you have nightmares of going 15 innings or something. Boy, that was as big a game as I've ever been involved in. That's one of the reasons why I came back.”
After Correa struck out and grounded out in his first two at-bats, hitting coach coach Alex Cintron took him down in the batting cage for some work. Cintron noticed Correa’s shoulders were closed off, which had prevented him from driving the ball. Cintron grabbed Correa and adjusted his shoulders and hands and quickly flipped him 10 balls to hit. It clicked immediately.
“I hit a line drive back through the middle [lining out to second base in the seventh] and I said, ‘Wow, that felt good,’” Correa said. “That made me click right there. After that at-bat, I came back on defense and I said, ‘Let’s go to the cage and feel it again.’ When I felt it, I thought I was going to do something good next at-bat.”