'Unstoppable': Correa climbs RBI ranks as Twins tie ALDS 1-1

October 9th, 2023

HOUSTON -- Here's what  had to say about his poor performance back in August, as he played through plantar fasciitis pain and a record-setting number of double-play grounders en route to some of the worst season-long numbers of his career:

"Hopefully, we make the playoffs, and you can go off there, and it'll all be worth it."

It's been worth it for the Twins, all right.

One of the greatest October performers of all time, Correa has cast off his forgettable regular season to once again become a titan of the postseason, moving into a tie with David Justice for third in American League/National League history in postseason RBIs with an RBI double and two-run single that powered the Twins to their 6-2 victory over the Astros in the pivotal Game 2 of the AL Division Series on Sunday night at Minute Maid Park.

"I said it before: He’s like Iron Man," Kyle Farmer said. "He puts that playoff mask on and he’s unstoppable."

Added manager Rocco Baldelli: "We've always heard all of the sayings and things: When the lights come on and the bright lights, there are some guys, they're giants in the light. He's one of them. That's what he is."

That made it 63 postseason RBIs for Correa, who passed Hall of Famers David Ortiz and Derek Jeter with his heroics and is now tied with David Justice, trailing only Bernie Williams (80) and Manny Ramirez (78) in the leaderboard.

"It's truly humbling," Correa said. "I grew up watching these guys play and idolizing them, practicing the jump throw like Jeter, trying to hit homers and walk-offs like Big Papi, just running the bases back home in Puerto Rico. For me to surpass them in RBIs truly means a lot."

After Minnesota's lackluster showing in its Game 1 loss, the club made an emphatic statement that, yes, it can hang with -- and dominate -- anyone in these playoffs on any given day, including the defending World Series champions.

They have ace Pablo López, who became the third pitcher in club history to throw at least seven scoreless innings in the postseason, joining Johan Santana in Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS and Jack Morris in the legendary Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

And they have their superstar shortstop. They paid him $200 million for these moments.

"We always kind of joke and say, ‘This is what we brought him here for,’" Ryan Jeffers said. "Mr. October."

Correa's two-out, first-inning RBI double off Astros starter Framber Valdez gave the Twins their first lead of the series after they trailed from start to finish in Game 1. When Minnesota had a chance to add to its lead in the fifth, Correa once again stepped up to deliver with a two-run, bases-loaded single that extended the Minnesota lead to 5-0 and knocked Valdez out of the game.

"I hit a lot of sinkers before the game," Correa said. "I was going to swing under it even if I missed under. I didn't want to hit a groundball in that scenario. I hit for too many double plays in the regular season. I don't want to hit for them in the playoffs."

This sort of clutch knock in that sort of moment is almost expected of Correa now, to the point that Donovan Solano, the runner on second for that play, said Jose Altuve -- who knows Correa better than anyone -- actually turned to Solano and said that if Royce Lewis got on base, Correa would come through with the knock.

"He told me that before that happened," Solano said. "As soon as [Lewis] got a walk, I looked at [Altuve] and he smiled to me. Like, OK. It happened like that. 'When we retire and you've got a job somewhere, I want to be on your staff,' I told [Altuve]. Because he was already prepared. He knew."

The timing of Correa's big blows couldn't have been more significant for the Twins. Though the loser of Game 1 of a Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format has only gone on to win the series 28% of the time, when such series have been tied after two games, the club heading home for Games 3 and 4 has wound up winning the series 28 of 42 times (67%).

All told, Correa went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a single, a walk and the three RBIs, making him 8-for-15 across the Twins' first four games of the 2023 postseason.

"He was awesome tonight," said Astros center fielder Chas McCormick. "We’ve got to pitch him a little better and make sure he’s not taking control of the game, because that’s what he wants to do."

If only it stopped there -- because this postseason has already been a bona fide highlight reel of Correa's exemplary defense and baseball instincts.

There was the play in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series in which he stunned the Blue Jays by backing up a soft grounder into no-man's-land and making an off-balance, all-or-nothing throw home to nab Bo Bichette at the plate. There was the game-changing pickoff of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at second base that he orchestrated in Game 2. There was the deke of José Abreu to stun the veteran as he attempted to coast into second on a wild pitch in Game 1 of the ALDS.

And now, all this with the bat in his hands.

"I think he is the kind of player that sometimes it's amazing and surprising that he sees things that no one else can see," López said. "When he's on defense, he just makes the unbelievable plays. When he's on offense, he wants the big moments to make something happen. He can really hype up a team."

Correa said that Astros fans came up to him and his family as they were eating dinner and breakfast in Houston before Game 1 -- to wish him luck. They then gave him a huge cheer as he was announced in the Twins' starting lineup before Game 1.

As these two games in Houston progressed, the cheers for Correa gradually lessened in enthusiasm. Then, boos started to mix in with the cheers. By the end of Game 2, he was being greeted by full-throated boos every time.

"They're rooting for their team, right?" Correa said. "I'm not on their team anymore. After everything I did for the organization, that's in the past. Now, I've moved forward. They've moved forward as well. And I understand it. They want their team to win, and they want me to strike out every time."

But he doesn’t, because he’s October Correa -- and it took some time for Houston fans to remember that October Correa is inevitable.

Except now, it's at their expense.