Astros' Core 4 still has unfinished business

November 2nd, 2021

HOUSTON -- They’ll forever be linked in Astros lore. When they get together in the years and decades to come to celebrate the remarkable run of success the Astros have enjoyed the last six years, they’ll be front and center. They’re the Mount Rushmore of the golden era of Houston baseball.

No matter whether they win or lose the World Series, second baseman , shortstop , third baseman and first baseman have their place in history on firm ground. When the Astros take the field for Game 6 of the Fall Classic on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, the four will make their 73rd postseason start together. If they win, they’ll get a 74th in Game 7 on Wednesday.

The four infielders -- one from Venezuela, one from Puerto Rico, one from Cuba and one from New Mexico -- have played more games together in the playoffs than any other quartet in playoff history. Even more than the Yankees’ legendary quartet of Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill, who started 68 playoff games together from 1996-2001.

“It's a special group, man,” Correa said. “I love those guys so much. We've grown together. We've gotten better together. We expect perfection out of each other. That's the way we push each other to just be better every single year. It's just going to be special.”

And now, with Correa facing free agency, the brotherhood could be nearing an end. The Astros need two wins over the Braves to secure a second World Series championship in a five-year span, which has included five consecutive trips to the American League Championship Series, four AL West titles and enough memories to last a lifetime.

Correa, 27, will be one of the biggest names on the market in the winter and could price himself out of Houston. The Astros selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 MLB Draft as a 17-year-old and called him up in 2015 as the face of their rebuilding efforts. Regardless of the future, he’s one of the top position players in franchise history and perhaps the most clutch.

“We try not to think about that too much, but we obviously know that's a reality that it could be the last Series we all play together,” Gurriel said. “Hopefully not. There's still the hope that he comes back. Since I've been here, I've felt really comfortable and felt really good with the infield we have here. So I still have hope that it's not the end for it.”

Altuve was here before any of them, getting called up in 2011 from Double-A Corpus Christi and enduring three consecutive 100-loss seasons. He and Correa became like brothers in the years that followed and turned into one of baseball’s best middle-infield combos. They’ll probably have statues outside Minute Maid Park one day along side Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.

“We fit each other, seeing everything we've been through, everything we accomplished together,” Altuve said. “Before we started this World Series, we were a little impressed about making the third appearance in the last five years and playing so many games together. Because Yuli, Alex, Carlos and I, we played a lot of games together, and that means a lot.”

But they don’t talk about their place history. Not yet.

“Maybe one time we will, and you never know,” Altuve said. “But I'm happy to get to play with those guys and just keep winning games.”

Bregman, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft out of LSU, made his debut on July 25, 2016 -- about one month before Gurriel, who was signed out of Cuba as a 32-year-old free agent. The four made their first start together in the infield on Sept. 3, 2016, in a 12-4 loss to the Rangers. The Astros missed the playoffs that year, but they have made it every year since.

“Definitely very proud,” Bregman said. “It's an honor to compete with those guys on a daily basis. To be honest with you, in 2016 I was thinking about staying in the big leagues. I was having a lot of fun. It was awesome to be able to play with those guys, such great guys. But at that point, when we first started playing together, I was just trying to get a few hits.”

They’ve all had their signature playoff moments -- Altuve’s walk-off homer against the Yankees to clinch the 2019 AL pennant and Bregman’s walk-off hit in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, to name a couple -- but they operate like clockwork on the field.

“We’ve been playing together so long that it’s just automatic by now,” Correa said.

“I hope it doesn’t end,” Bregman said.

But this could be it. They could play their final game together as teammates if the Astros don’t win Game 6, but they’ll be brothers for life and legends in H-town.

“We've just got to keep fighting, keep going, and focus on Game 6,” Correa said. “I truly love those guys.”