HOUSTON -- With one swing late Sunday night, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa changed the course of the American League Championship Series.
Instead of facing the monumental task of heading to Yankee Stadium needing to win twice in three games to keep their season alive, the Astros evened the series at one game apiece when Correa rocketed the first pitch of the bottom of the 11th inning into the right-field seats for a dramatic walk-off homer and a 3-2 win over the Yankees in Game 2.
“There was never going to be 0-2,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “We were going to win tonight. We did a great job of coming out with a lot of confidence and played well.”
Correa, made a heads-up play in the sixth inning to throw out DJ LeMahieu at the plate, crushed a 94.4 mph fastball from J.A. Happ and sent it 394 feet into the right-field seats. Minute Maid Park, where most of the 43,359 fans still remained nearly five hours after the first pitch, erupted as Correa rounded the bases.
The star shortstop feigned a jump shot with his helmet as he neared his teammates at home before hopping on the plate. It marked the Astros’ ninth walk-off postseason win in franchise history and the second for Correa, who delivered a walk-off double off Aroldis Chapman in Game 2 of the 2017 ALCS -- also against the Yanks.
“Yeah, as soon as I hit it I knew it was going to go over the fence,” Correa said. “The adrenaline started pumping like crazy. I don't even know what I did. I've got to go watch the video. But I know I was so hyped. Seeing my teammates running out of the dugout to the home plate while I was still standing there was pretty awesome. Obviously, it's a moment that's going to live with me forever.”
And with that, the Astros head to New York for Game 3 with new life and renewed expectations. They’ll send starting pitcher Gerrit Cole to the mound on Tuesday afternoon in the Bronx in an effort to take back control of the series. Houston is 15-0 in Cole’s last 15 starts.
“It’s tough,” Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge said. “Yeah, we had a lot of chances that game, you know, we had them on the ropes basically all game and just weren’t able to seal the deal. We're confident going back home, you know, splitting the series, splitting the two games here and now we have three of them in the Bronx.”
In postseason series with the current 2-3-2 format, when a team has split the first two games at home, it has gone on to win the series 45 of 82 times (55 percent). Among those 82 splits, the Game 3 winner has gone on to win the series 55 times (67 percent).
The Astros, who were shut out in Game 1, scored their first run of the series when Correa hit an RBI double in the second off Yankees starter James Paxton. Houston starter Justin Verlander, meanwhile, sent down the first nine he faced before Judge followed a walk to LeMahieu in the fourth with a 423-foot, two-run homer to right field to put New York ahead in the fourth.
“The two best ballclubs in the game -- good pitching matchups, offense, some guys coming up big with homers and driving guys in,” Judge said. “It's all we kind of expected so far.”
Then it was Correa saving the day with his defense in the sixth, scrambling to pick up a Brett Gardner liner that glanced off the glove of second baseman José Altuve. LeMahieu, who was on second, was waved home by third-base coach Phil Nevin, but Correa fired to the plate to get him out in a dramatic end to the inning.
“That was a heads-up baseball play,” Bregman said.
The two runs would be all the Yanks would get against Verlander, who battled through 6 2/3 innings and exited to a thunderous roar in the seventh. He threw 109 pitches and left Houston’s bullpen to cover the rest. It was up to the challenge.
“This was an incredible baseball game,” said Verlander, who greeted every teammate as they headed from the dugout to the tunnel postgame. “It's nerve-racking. For me being in it, I feel much more calm. And the second I'm out of it, it's a completely different atmosphere; I'm pacing, I can't hardly watch. It's tough.”
Will Harris recorded the final out in the seventh and first out in the eighth before closer Roberto Osuna retired all five batters he faced. Joe Smith nailed down five outs in his biggest outing with the Astros to date, and Josh James struck out Gary Sánchez looking to strand runners at first and second in the 11th.
“I don’t know why, but my entire time here that’s been a narrative here for a while,” Harris said in defense of a bullpen that has had to answer questions about its effectiveness. “We got a lot of guys that can do the job. Tonight we proved that.”
The Astros worked their way through nine Yankees pitchers and were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 runners. None of that mattered, though, after Correa turned the ALCS into what promises to be a doozy.
“We're in the second round of what could be a seven-round fight,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said. “Obviously, we know what's at stake. The emotions are real out there. The intensity, our fans were incredible these two games. We're going into a crazy environment at Yankee Stadium tied 1-1.”