HOUSTON -- Carlos Correa may only be 21 years old, but his penchant for bringing in runs has transformed the young shortstop into the Astros' second-most valuable asset on offense, behind only American League MVP candidate José Altuve.
That skill for driving in runs was on full display once again Friday night, when Correa launched a ninth-inning solo shot over the right-field wall at Minute Maid Park, a crucial homer that allowed Houston to beat the Rays with Evan Gattis' walk-off homer nine pitches later.
"The only surprise last night [with Correa's home run] is that it wasn't a walk-off," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
Playing far beyond his years, Correa leads the club in RBIs with 88, including 85 as a shortstop, only one away from matching the club's single-season record for that position.
"He doesn't act like a 21-year-old really ever, unless he's messing around with Altuve or [Jake Marisnick]," Hinch said. "Those are their kiddish moments, but I'm not surprised. He's been raised to thrive in these environments. He's been challenged at a very young age. He's been the most famous guy on his team since he was 12."
Correa also holds the club record for most home runs ever by an Astros shortstop (40).
"I don't feel like a rookie," Correa said. "I don't walk out there like I'm a 21-year-old baseball player. I walk out there with a lot of confidence, [trying] to do the best I can to help my team win."
His ability to drive in runs is due to a number of reasons. For one, Correa has developed a knack for timely hits to the opposite side of the field. It also doesn't hurt that he's hitting behind Altuve, who leads the American League in batting average (.356) and hits (181).
"They're like best friends forever, as my kids say," Hinch said. "They're a great tandem, and I think [Correa] is very appreciative of hitting behind such an accomplished guy, who's on base a lot, who clearly can run, creates havoc on the bases, puts a lot of pressure on the defense, which makes for a slightly easier at-bat."
And the Astros need Correa to continue producing at a high level. Houston's 6-2 win over the Rays on Saturday combined with Baltimore's loss to the Yankees moved the Astros within two games of the AL's second Wild Card.
But Hinch said he's not trying to thrust Correa into a veteran leadership position on the team yet, just because he is still so young.
"The leadership component of this team is more spread out," Hinch said. "Most of the time you have a guy that you point to and say, 'This is the guy.' We have a number of guys to take a little bit of the leadership responsibilities and utilize it."