SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Steve Gardner tells us everything we need to know for the monstrous ALCS showdown between the Yankees and Astros.
HOUSTON — The horns are still honking. The parties are raging. The streets are buzzing.
It’s the wee hours of the morning Monday in Houston, and no one wants to go home.
Everyone wants to celebrate the man of the hour, who saved the Houston Astros’ game with his glove, won it with his bat, and then displayed one of the most fabulous walk-off celebrations ever seen in baseball.
Carlos Correa sent New York Yankees pitcher J.A. Happ’s fastball deep into the night over the right-field wall. The ball had not even landed when Correa took a step with his right foot. Then his left. Then, his right. Dropped the bat. Stared at his teammates. Put his right hand towards his head. Cupped his ear. Took four more steps. And started hopping.
When he reached first base, he finally began his trot round the bases, raising his right arm and his index finger pointed towards the screaming crowd. He came around third base, started towards home, stopped about 30 feet short, took off his helmet, jumped, and shot his helmet into the air as if he were Steph Curry.
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He finally reached home plate two minutes before midnight Sunday, was mobbed by his teammates, and promptly had his jersey ripped apart from his body.
“He was born,’’ Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said, “for October.’’
It was a shot heard ‘round the state of Texas, with the Astros knocking off the New York Yankees, 3-2 in 11 innings, in a game lasting 4 hours and 49 minutes, in an American League Championship Series classic that could be remembered for an awful long time deep down in the heart of Texas.
“Obviously,’’ Correa said, “it’s a moment that’s going to live with me forever.’’
But first, he needs to get home, turn on the TV, and watch the replay.
He can remember every moment of the game, even before it started when he predicted he would be the star, and even as he walked to the plate, believing he was going to homer, but don’t ask him what happened after he hit the homer.
He has no idea.
“As soon as I hit it,’’ Correa said, “I knew it was going over the fence. 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 hyped.’’
The ALCS now is tied at 1-game apiece with the series headed to Yankee Stadium, but considering the Astros have the hottest pitcher on the planet, Gerrit Cole in Game 3, Justin Verlander back in Game 6, and Cole again, it almost felt as if this were Game 7.
The Astros knew they had to win this game, or the series would be over, knowing that only three teams in LCS history have ever recovered from a 2-0 deficit.
“There was no 0-2,’’ Bregman said. “It was never going to be 0-2. We were going to win tonight.’’
Said Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos: “We had no choice. We had to win this game.’’
It was the confidence the entire team showed Sunday knowing that Verlander was on the mound, and sparked by Correa, who predicted to anyone who’d listen that he was going to do something great before the evening was over.
At 11:58 p.m. Central Time, he worked his magic.
“He told me before the game,’’ Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said, “and he was like, “Josey, I think I’m going to do something big tonight.’ He really did.’’
Yet, to be honest, Altuve figured that moment arrived in the sixth inning, when he saved the game, and Altuve’s glove, with a play that brought back memories of Derek Jeter 18 years ago in Oakland.
Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner, with runners on first and second, hit a sharp one-hopper to Altuve. It clanked of his glove, and caromed to his right. Yankees third baseman coach Phil Nevin alertly waved D.J. LeMahieu home, only to see Correa run over, and grab the ball. He fired an 87-mph fastball home to Chirinos, and LeMahieu was out by 10 feet.
“When I opened my eyes,’’ Altuve said, “I saw we made an out at home plate.
“That’s when I was really happy.’’
It had Verlander dancing from the mound, pumping his fist, and 43,359 screaming fans believing they just witnessed the re-enactment of Jeter’s flip to home plate to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate.
“As an infielder, I know how tough it is to catch a ball that’s a line drive right at you, in between [the legs]’’ Correa said. “So, as soon as I knew that it was going to crash in between, I was creeping over. When it hit him, and I saw the ball go my way, I just went after it. And I grabbed it.
“When I looked up and I saw he was sending the runner, I thought, ‘Oh, I got this guy.’
“So I threw him out. I don’t know why he sent him, but, thank you.”
Says Verlander: “It was just incredible.’’
It was quite a welcome to the postseason for Correa, who played in only 75 games this season with a cracked rib and back injury, missing the final week of the season, and going just 3-for-22 in the Astros’ first six postseason gmaes, dropping to seventh in the lineup.
He was hitless in Game 1, but came out Sunday with a run-scoring double in the second inning, a strike out in the fourth, hitting a fly ball to the deepest part of center field in the sixth, and then striking out again in the ninth. But then came his heroics in the 11th.
“I was very confident going into the game,’’ Correa said, “that today was the day where I was going to break out. And going into that last inning I thought, I got this. …Everybody was telling me, “You’re going to hit it. You’re going to hit a home run.’’
Oh, he got it all right. Opposite field. Over the right-field wall. Home run.
“I know what kind of player I am when I’m healthy,” Correa said. “It’s been a roller-coaster of a year with the injuries and stuff.
“But it’s all worth it for moments like this, moments like where you give your team a chance to win.
“It’s all worth it, man.’’
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