HOUSTON -- They’ve been the Astros’ heart and soul through the best and worst of times, through the 2017 championship parade and the boos in visiting venues that followed. Thick and thin are the waters Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa have navigated in their now 64 postseason games together, the most all time among a second base and shortstop tandem.
And in what could be their swan song manning the middle infield at Minute Maid Park, Altuve and Correa were fittingly the vessels behind Houston’s edge-of-your-seat, 5-4 win in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night.
Altuve crushed a two-run, game-tying homer in the sixth inning off Tanner Houck, then Correa hit the decisive shot off Hansel Robles in the seventh, his fourth go-ahead playoff homer in the seventh inning or later, the most in AL/NL history.
“It's kind of like Tom Brady and [Rob] Gronkowski,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said of the Correa-Altuve relationship. “They know how they think. They know probably what they eat for dinner, what they like and what their kids like. It's a special relationship that will last forever because when they get through playing, they'll be coming back to many teams that won in '17 or teams that won here and teams that won there -- and they're a big part of it.”
Beyond the significance within the context of the game, those homers also propelled Altuve and Correa up the record-book leaderboard. Altuve’s was his 20th in the postseason, which moved him into a tie with Derek Jeter for third most all time, but he accomplished the feat in 68 games compared to Jeter’s 158.
“Derek Jeter is one of the greatest baseball players ever, greatest person to ever play the game, and just to hit as many [postseason] homers as him, it means a lot to me,” Altuve said.
Correa’s was his 18th in the playoffs, pushing him into a tie for seventh with Nelson Cruz, Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle, true titans of October.
“They're all special in their own way,” Correa said when asked to rank his postseason heroics. “Obviously, this one is the most special because it's in the present time. It's right now.”
Manny Ramírez holds the all-time crown, with 29, and Bernie Williams, whose 22 are second most, are well within reach for both Altuve and Correa should Houston push deeper into these playoffs. Just ahead of Correa, with 19, is Albert Pujols and their former teammate, George Springer.
Obviously, there is the caveat that last year’s playoffs included an expanded field and round, going beyond the Wild Card expansion in 1995, which many of the stars of yesteryear weren’t around for. Yet Altuve and Correa’s statistical accolades go on and on, and more than anything, these two say that they thrive in these October moments because they live for them.
Altuve now has a .961 OPS in the postseason after his 1-for-3 night, which also included a sacrifice fly insurance run in the eighth. Correa, who went 3-for-4, now carries a .902 playoff OPS. Among 305 players with at least 100 postseason at-bats, Altuve ranks 10th and Correa, 27th. Their numbers are also significantly higher than their all-time regular-season marks of .821 (Altuve) and .837 (Correa).
Of course, the aggregate of those numbers will be called into question when everything is said and done after the sign-stealing saga of 2017. But these Astros have seemingly embraced their black-hatted role this season, and they’ve carried their offensive onslaught into pressure-packed October.
When Correa crushed that 90.8 mph, middle-high changeup from Robles, he immediately dropped his bat and tapped his left wrist asking for the time, saying postgame that the gesture was an inspiration from his teammates: “When the playoffs start, they always tell me, ‘It's your time now to go out there, hit homers,’ this and that. They told me to hit the watch when I hit the homer.”
“He wants to go out there and hit big homers,” Altuve said. “It seems like he expects to go out there and do it, so if you're expecting something, eventually you're going to make it happen, and that's him. He is the leader of our team. He is the number one reason why we're in the playoffs.”
Correa needed a setup man, though, especially when the Astros were trailing for a bulk of the game and began the night 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position -- until Altuve came through.
“Honestly, every time Jose is hitting in the playoffs, I feel like he is going to hit a home run,” Correa said. “He is just so dangerous. His track record in the playoffs is insane, and he just inspires me.”
Correa’s impending free agency has been a well-chronicled topic all season, but especially now after he led all position players with 7.2 WAR, per Baseball-Reference, and that his timeline to the open market is so near. These could be among the final games that he shares the diamond with Altuve, and he plans to make them count.