Best b-day gift? Walk-off SLAM vs. Rangers

June 16th, 2021

HOUSTON -- Dusty Baker may not know exactly what his managerial record is on his birthday, but he is sure of this much -- it isn’t good. 

That margin improved on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park with one of the Astros’ most dramatic wins of the season. The Astros were down to their last strike in the ninth when Carlos Correa tied it up with a solo homer off Josh Sborz, and Jose Altuve ended it in the 10th with a grand slam, lifting the Astros to a 6-3 win over the Rangers.

“The first thing Jose told me was, ‘Happy birthday, Skip,’” said Baker, who turned 72. “That was certainly a happy birthday. That was some finish.” 

The Astros were down to their last strike and were facing settling for the consolation prize, in the form of an encouraging first outing by Lance McCullers Jr. in his return from the injured list. But a familiar cast of characters did what they so often do, flipping the script with a late-game comeback, and a win.  

The last moments all but erased what was a rare anemic offensive night from a lineup that has been blazing since the start of their most recent road trip. The Astros have now won 11 of their past 15 games.

And they’re finding new ways to rise to the occasion.

“You want to win on his birthday,” Altuve said of his manager. “So I‘m happy that I did something to help make that happen.”

Correa’s opposite-field shot that got the birthday party started traveled 377 feet to right field and left his bat at 101.5 mph, per Statcast.

“That’s a sign of a battler,” Baker said. “You’ve got one strike left, or else [the Rangers] will be jubilant, and our crowd would go home sad, and we’d go home sad.

“When I saw that ball go up in the air toward right, I knew it had a great chance of getting out of here. I saw Joey Gallo climbing the wall and I said, ‘No, I don’t think you’re going to catch that one.’”

Over his past 26 games, Correa is batting .361 with eight doubles, seven homers and 20 RBIs.

“Carlos, it feels like every time he gets an opportunity to capitalize on big moments, he does it,” said McCullers, who allowed two runs (one earned) over 4 1/3 innings. “I can’t say enough how well Carlos has been swinging the bat and playing overall. This whole season, but definitely here of late. It has been special to watch.”

Altuve’s grand slam seemed to leave the ballpark quicker than Correa’s homer, traveling 370 feet to left field and landing several rows into the Crawford Boxes. It was the Astros’ first walk-off grand slam since Brian Bogusevic homered off Cubs pitcher Carlos Marmol on Aug. 16, 2011.

Miles Straw and Jason Castro preceded Altuve’s at-bat with walks that loaded the bases, which gave Altuve a sense that right-hander Demarcus Evans might be more aggressive in the strike zone and possibly give him something that he could hit.

“That’s why I swung at the first pitch out of the zone -- I thought he was going to throw strikes,” Altuve said. “He threw a good pitch, I got back to my plan and tried to hit a pitch I could handle.”

How quiet were the Astros' bats in this game? Until Correa’s ninth-inning heroics, they did not have a single extra-base hit.

“We weren’t having a good game offensively, but [that] is the [kind of] team we are,” Altuve said. “Correa hit his homer, and that, for me, was the key to winning the game. If he doesn’t get that homer, it’s game over. That was the play of the game.”