Gurriel hits walk-off 1B, wins AL batting title

Correa homers on emotional day before exiting in ninth to a standing ovation

October 4th, 2021

HOUSTON -- With a five-point lead in the American League batting race entering the final day of the regular season, Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel was held out of the starting lineup for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the A’s by manager Dusty Baker.

That didn’t stop Gurriel from coming through with the bat.

Gurriel singled to left field in the ninth inning to score Jason Castro from third base to give the Astros a walk-off 7-6 win over the A’s on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. Gurriel finished with a .319 batting average, which makes him the second player in franchise history to win a batting title.

“It’s something that’s really important,” Gurriel said. “I think everybody knows it’s a big deal and it’s tough to win a batting title, so it means a lot. I was fine either way with playing today [or not].”

Gurriel is the second Cuban-born player to win a batting title, joining the Twins' Tony Oliva (AL batting champion 1964, '65, '71). At 37 years old, he is the second-oldest first-time batting champion behind the Giants' Barry Bonds (37 in 2002).

Gurriel won a batting title in his final year with La Habana in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, hitting .500 (87-for-174) in 2015-16. He said he came close a few other times in Cuba, mostly while playing 12 seasons for Sancti Spiritus (2001-12). Gurriel's resurgence comes after he hit just .232 in last year’s shortened season.

The only other Astros player to win a batting title was Jose Altuve, who did it three times (2014, ’16-17). After the game, Gurriel’s teammates gave him a champagne toast in celebration.

“I’m very proud of him,” shortstop Carlos Correa said. “I tell him every day, ‘Papi, you’re old and still hitting like crazy.’ He’s still got a lot of baseball left in him. He’s a guy I really look up to him a lot. He’s been an unbelievable hitter ever since his days back in Cuba, and then he played in Japan and made his transition to the big leagues. The guy’s special, and we made sure we honored him for that.”

Gurriel entered the game as a defensive replacement in the ninth when Baker arranged to bring Correa off the field so the fans could give him an ovation. The A’s scored three in the ninth to tie the game, so Gurriel’s spot in the order came up in the bottom of the inning with runners at second and third.

“I wasn’t prepared to hit today, actually,” he said. “I hadn’t taken not even a swing all day, so I wasn’t exactly ready for it. I had the positive mindset when I got in there, and I quickly changed my mindset that I was going to get a hit there and win the game for us.”

Correa homers on emotional day
Free-agent-to-be Correa, in what could be his final regular-season game in an Astros uniform, was honored by the fans and his teammates Sunday, beginning with when he took the field by himself to start the game. The crowd and his teammates clapped as Correa stood on the field for a moment.

“He earned that and deserved that,” Baker said. “He and the crowd are one. They grew up together with Carlos. And Carlos grew up with them. Carlos is a big part of this town and a huge part of the organization.”

In his final at-bat of the regular season, Correa hit an opposite-field homer to right in the eighth inning -- his career-high 26th of the season. Baker then pulled him from the field as the ninth inning started. Correa hugged his teammates and tipped his cap to the crowd before disappearing into the dugout.

“It was a very emotional day,” Correa said. “It was a 2 o’clock game and I showed up early to the ballpark, soaking it all in and going out there and feeling every single second, every single moment. They told me to go out first. I usually go out last and they were pushing me to go out first. They wanted me to go first for a reason. I went out and they stayed behind, and it obviously meant a lot to me, just the way my teammates treated me and take care of me and how much I respect them and the love they have for me.”

Astros fans will get another chance to salute Correa in the AL Division Series which begins Thursday, but his legacy in club history is a large one. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, he won the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year Award and was a cornerstone player on a team that is making its sixth trip to the playoffs in the past seven years.

Correa said he hasn’t spoken to owner Jim Crane in a couple of months, but he’s expected to be one of the most sought-after players on the free-agent market this winter. And he’s one of the most popular players in club history.

“It’s my second home, and they made me feel right at home,” Correa said. “Whenever I go out to the mall, whenever I go out to eat or watch a movie or whenever they see me walking on the street, they show their love and support, and that means a lot to me and my family. I’m forever grateful for everything and every moment we share together.”