Correa belts first career grand slam as Astros roll

Shortstop goes deep, drives in five, one day after returning from IL

July 28th, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- entered Saturday’s game feeling as prepared as he could in advance of facing an unfamiliar starter. He had studied the scouting reports on Cardinals right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon and viewed enough video to pick out some tendencies.

It hardly mattered.

As Correa came to the plate with the bases full in the third inning, he found himself poised not to face Ponce de Leon, but rather reliever Michael Wacha, who had been summoned into a bases-loaded mess. Correa conferred with hitting coach Alex Cintron for a quick refresher on Wacha’s repertoire and then made subtle adjustments throughout the at-bat before feasting on a fastball.

That sixth pitch he saw from Wacha landed in the Cardinals’ bullpen for a grand slam, the first of Correa’s career and an exclamation point to his return from a recent stint on the 60-day injured list.

It also provided all the cushion and the Astros needed to cruise to an 8-2 victory over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

“It was the first one. Obviously, you don’t forget things like that,” Correa said. “It was pretty special.”

The grand slam came a day after Correa finished 0-for-4 upon returning from a rib injury. His eighth-inning strikeout with the bases loaded in Friday’s game had loomed large in the outcome, as the Cardinals followed it with three unanswered runs to steal a win.

But Correa’s chance to atone came quickly. He was next in line in the third after the Astros chased Ponce de Leon with three consecutive one-out walks. Wacha, whose spot in the rotation Ponce de Leon had recently assumed, saw his 2-2 fastball promptly crushed a Statcast-projected 367 feet.

“Wish I could have that pitch back,” Wacha said afterward. “Wish I could have made a better pitch.”

It marked Correa’s first home run since May 19, and the 10th grand slam of Houston’s season. That’s already a franchise record and the most by any team in the Majors this year.

“Our lineup is pretty scary,” said Correa, who tied a career high with his five-RBI night. “We can do pretty special things. We can turn around games pretty quick in the matter of just one inning.”

There was ample evidence of that on Saturday as Correa’s big night at the plate was flanked by a wide cast of contributors. Shaking off a 12-strikeout night in the series opener, four Astros hitters saw at least five pitches in the team’s two-run first, running Ponce de Leon’s pitch count to 25.

By the end of the night, seven of the club’s eight starting position players had scored at least once, and all had been on base. Alex Bregman snapped an 0-for-16 skid with a double in the seventh, and Yuli Gurriel extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a two-hit affair.

“We made [Ponce de Leon] work,” manager AJ Hinch said. “We didn’t swing out of the zone. We drew enough walks. We hit a couple key base hits. And we chased him early when he wasn’t throwing strikes. To put that kind of pressure on their pitching staff, it’s nice.”

The early six-run lead also helped Cole settle in on a night when he competed without pinpoint command. Nevertheless, he twirled seven strong innings in his eighth career start at Busch Stadium en route to securing his eighth straight win.

It all would have made for a tidy wrap to the night if not for an eighth-inning collision that, in particular, frustrated Hinch. An awkward attempt at a slide by Yairo Munoz left Correa exposed after he took a feed at second base. Munoz, trying to break up a double play, slid well wide of the base and hurdled Correa, clipping his right arm near the elbow, as he came down.

Correa initially stayed in the game after being checked on by an athletic trainer, but then had to be removed for a pinch-hitter as he continued to feel numbness in his arm.

“First off, it was a brutal slide,” Hinch said. “It’s an unnecessary slide. He didn’t need to go all the way through the base and hit Carlos. Slide rule fails again. It didn’t protect Carlos there.”

Correa refuted a suggestion that the slide was malicious, noting that he knows Munoz personally and didn’t “think he was trying to take me out and get me hurt.”

“It was an accident,” Correa added. “I looked at the video. He didn’t go for the bag. I don’t know. I was just worried because my fingers got numb. Right now, I feel great. That sensation is not there anymore, so I should be good for [Sunday].”