Michael Brantley had four doubles in the first two games of the season, Kyle Tucker drove in a run in each of the first six games and Alex Bregman had four multihit games in his first four starts. As the Astros were bashing the baseball to start the season, Carlos Correa’s contributions weren’t what he had hoped.
That changed in the ninth inning Tuesday afternoon, when Correa clubbed a two-run homer off Angels reliever Raisel Iglesias -- sailing an 0-2 fastball 384 feet over the right-center-field wall -- to break a ninth-inning tie and send the Astros to a 4-2 win in the series finale in Anaheim.
“I like hitting late in the game when the game is on the line,” Correa said. “That’s when I feel sexy.”
The Astros went 5-1 on their season-opening road trip and scored 45 runs, averaging 7.5 per game. They have outscored opponents 13-0 in the ninth inning, including Correa’s first homer. The only game they didn’t score in the ninth was Sunday, when the A’s trotted out outfielder Ka’ai Tom to pitch in just his third big league game.
Houston’s red-hot start is no surprise to Correa, who said he was encouraged when everyone reported to spring camp in great shape and laser-focused.
“I knew the team was focused to go out there and compete and win games,” Correa said. “The start of the season tells you how hard we worked to get better offensively and defensively and every single aspect of the game. You can see it with this start. It’s only one week but … the boys are feeling good, and the vibe is great. I’m just proud of this group of guys.”
Correa, who turned down a five-year, $125 million contract extension from the Astros last month, had been hitting the ball hard this year without much of an impact prior to Tuesday. His 96.8 mph average exit velocity ranks in the top eight percent of the league. That includes a 116.4 mph single and a 111.2 mph groundout on Monday and a 108.3 mph groundout on Opening Day.
“The results weren’t there, but my main focus right now is to hit the ball hard,” Correa said. “My approach is simple this year: I just want to barrel balls. I was doing my part, [but] I just was not finding any holes. Today, I was able to square a good one, and it went out. That definitely felt good.”
When Correa came to the plate in the sixth inning Tuesday with the game tied and runners at second and third, Correa popped up to second base. In the ninth, after Yordan Alvarez hit a broken-bat single to left field, Correa -- with pinch-runner Chas McCormick at first -- crushed the fastball from Iglesias. See it and hit it.
“It’s as simple as that,” he said. “I was looking for a pitch down the middle and he threw a fastball down the middle, and I was able to put a good swing on it.”
The Astros, who entered the day tied for the Major League lead with nine homers, scored all of their runs off the long ball Tuesday, including back-to-back shots by Tucker and Aledmys Díaz in the second inning, which came one frame after Mike Trout hit a two-run homer off Houston starter Zack Greinke.
That tie held up until Correa delivered the game-winner in the ninth.
“This is early in the season -- you come in and out of your swing until you find your groove,” manager Dusty Baker said. “[Correa] found it today at the right time. When he's hitting that ball to right-center field, that's about as good an approach as you can get. He has tremendous power to right-center field, and he has a way of coming through at the right time in the big games.”