“José, I think I’m going to do something big tonight,” he said
Correa did just that in the top of the sixth inning Sunday night when he grabbed a Brett Gardner grounder that had skipped away from Altuve and fired a perfect throw to home plate to get DJ LeMahieu and prevent the tiebreaking run from scoring.
“Well, OK, he did it,” Altuve said later. “I thought that was the one he was talking about.”
In a season filled with frustration and injury, Correa delivered an even more dramatic moment hours later by leading off the bottom of the 11th inning with a home run that gave the Astros a 3-2 walk-off victory over the Yankees to even the American League Championship Series at a game apiece.
Now the series shifts to Yankee Stadium for three games, with right-hander Gerrit Cole scheduled to pitch Game 3 on Tuesday afternoon. This was a mini-classic and one of several Houston has played in the last three seasons.
It was four hours, 49 minutes of tension, neither team able to take control, each constantly pushing the other. Afterward, Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos, who’d gone the distance despite a couple of tough hits, smiled and said, “I’m excited now. In an hour, I’m going to be tired.”
That was a theme in both clubhouses.
“It's hard to say what it's like to go through it,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said. “We're in the second round of what could be a seven-round fight. 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.”
This was a victory the Astros had to have. In the end, it’s just that simple. Had they lost the first two games at home, their chances of advancing to a second World Series in three seasons would have become the longest of long shots.
"There was no losing this game," Alex Bregman told FS1's Ken Rosenthal on the field after the game. "We were winning this game. Everybody in this clubhouse believes in each other, and we're looking forward to going up there."
That’s the thing about this Astros team. Yes, there’s talent. But there’s resilience and closeness, too. They did not blink in moments like this, and even on a night when the game was tied from the time George Springer homered in the fifth until Correa won it in the 11th, there could have been the feeling of something slipping away. Only that didn’t happen.
“This team, when we realize we need to do something, we go out there and do it,” Altuve said. “This was a big game because the next one is Gerrit on the mound, and we know what he’s capable of. We feel pretty good about it.”
Houston won because it got 6 2/3 solid innings from Justin Verlander and because Hinch smartly maneuvered five relievers who shut out New York over the final 4 1/3 innings.
The Astros left runners stranded in scoring position in the second, third, fifth and 10th innings. Afterward when Hinch was asked about his hitters being in a slump, he brushed that theory away. He said the Yanks' pitching staff is as good as advertised, maybe not as good as the Rays' staff but close.
“That's not a lack of offense,” Hinch said. “There were some incredible at-bats today. I think seven or eight line-drive outs, big home run by Springer, big home run by Correa. These are two of the best teams in Major League Baseball. I see two incredible teams going at it with strengths on both sides. What a big win.”
After 107 regular-season wins, Houston has been pushed around a bit in the playoffs already. The Rays forced the Astros to a deciding Game 5 in the AL Division Series, and the Yankees won Game 1 of the ALCS in the ballpark in which the AL West champs had the best home record in the game.
Only thing is, the Astros’ confidence never wavered. All that winning the last three seasons has given the group an unshakable belief that, as Altuve said, it can do what needs to be done.
“I think every championship run when you look back,” Verlander said, “there's always moments throughout the course of a ballgame or series [in which you say], `How did we win that game, what happened?’ And I think tonight is nothing short of that. This was an incredible baseball game. It's nerve-racking.”