ALCS: Carlos Correa leads the Astros, on and off the pitch

HOUSTON – It was a little while, and it may have gone unnoticed by many who watched Game 4 of the American League Divisional Series claimed by the Houston Astros despised against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday. . But it captured exactly what Astros shortstop Carlos Correa meant for his team.

When rookie center fielder Jake Meyers slammed his left shoulder against the outfield wall while attempting to steal Chicago a home run in the second inning and collapsed to the ground in pain, his fellow outfielders fell apart. rushed towards him, as did his manager and an athletics coach.

Not only did Correa do the same, but he took matters into his own hands. Meyers, 25, wanted to stay in the game and made a few practice shots, but Correa persuaded him not to.

“I said, ‘Grandpa, if you can’t get a home ball when you need it most, you shouldn’t stay in the game,'” Correa said later. Then, referring to backup outfielder Chas McCormick, he said, “’You should let Chas take over and trust your teammates. We have this.

Correa continued, “He did his best. He almost caught that ball. He’s a special child.

For the Astros, Correa was special.

When the Astros won the 2017 World Series and lost one victory less than another championship in 2019, he was their star shortstop in the lead. When their cheating during their winning season came to light in November 2019 and they were punished, he became the clubhouse’s de facto spokesperson, delivering the most passionate apologies and explanations for their actions. In the face of a storm of anger and resentment from fans and opposing players that exists to date, he has established himself as the Astros’ best all-around player and most willing to publicly push back – with a hint of ‘arrogance.

It was as if Correa, a professional wrestling fan, had embraced the role of a heel, the antagonist in the ring. To his teammates, he had become not only one of baseball’s best players, but also an even greater leader, guiding them through their self-inflicted mess until their fifth consecutive appearance in the League Championship Series. American, which started on Friday. evening with a 5-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Houston.

Correa’s solo homerun in the seventh inning kept Houston in a game that had dragged on in its first innings.

“It’s just my job to go out there and do what’s best for the team, and that’s giving the players the right information, inspiring the guys when they’re down, motivating them to go. out there and playing for the team, ”Correa said on the field in Chicago after his team toppled the White Sox on Tuesday.

“I have the impression that it comes quite naturally,” he continued. “It’s in me. This is what I love to do. I like to make the players better. Every time someone comes to this club house, I do my best to give them the right information to make them a better player.

Selected by the Astros to Academy Baseball and Puerto Rico High School with the first pick in the 2012 Draft, Correa has been Houston’s daily shortstop since he was 20 in 2015. Even though he didn’t ‘made his major league debut only in June. this season and suffered injuries in subsequent seasons, he is the third most valuable shortstop in the major leagues since, according to FanGraphs wins over replacement stats, behind Francisco Lindor, now Mets , and Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox.

This season Correa, who turned 27 last month, has improved his consistency on the pitch. He led the majors in defensive wins over substitution, according to Baseball Reference. A right-handed hitter, he hit .279 with 26 home runs, 92 RBIs and an .850 baseline plus slugging percentage in a lineup that led the majors in scoring and had the lowest strikeout rate. .

“I saw him come here as a 17-year-old kid, a shy kid at that, and really become one of the best players in our game,” said Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who cohabited with Correa. in the minor leagues.

He continued, “To see him grow up and see him be as successful as he has become, the work he has done to get there is pretty amazing.”

Correa is the vocal captain of a group of Astros – all infielders – who led the team through that five-year streak of victory. No teammate in major league history has played more playoff games together (62) than first baseman Yuli Gurriel, second baseman Jose Altuve, third baseman Alex Bregman and Correa.

“The core of each team is very important,” Correa said. “And the core of this team has been spectacular in the playoffs. The front office has done a great job giving us a great team every year to be able to compete. “

He later added: “We never tire of these times so they are special and we are doing our best in October.”

Gurriel noted how difficult it was in today’s game to keep a foursome together and win. He, Altuve, and Bregman all signed deals to stay with Houston. Correa, however, will be a free agent after the playoffs.

“I hope Carlos re-signs here to stay together,” Gurriel said in Spanish. “But it’s still difficult, and it’s a business, and we have to understand that. Over the past few years he has taken on this leadership role and it has done well.

Because Correa reached the big leagues so young, he will be entering the free agent market at an old age for a huge long-term contract. Although he and Astros owner Jim Crane have said they want the relationship to continue, the biggest and longest contracts Crane has made were contract extensions to Correa’s teammates on the pitch. : $ 151 million over five years for Altuve and $ 100 million over five years for Bregman.

Considering the 2021 season and Correa’s age, he’s set to surpass them and win the biggest contract in the shortstop free agent class this winter. And given his success in October – his 55 career playoff RBIs are the most active among active players – he’s a proven performer.

“Carlos was one of the greatest big game players in Astros history and even in the history of the game, and I don’t hear him talking about it,” said Dusty Baker, who took over the helm. by AJ Hinch. , who was fired by the Astros and suspended by Major League Baseball after his investigation.

In all aspects of the game, Correa lifted the Astros.

“This guy has intangible leadership qualities that are way beyond his years and he knows how to act,” said Brent Strom, the Astros pitching coach. “When I go to the mound and talk to a pitcher, he’s there with me to confirm what I’m talking about, whether it’s English or Spanish. “

As anger over the franchise’s cheating scandal raged last season and this year, Correa was the former 2017 Astro most willing to speak up about it. (No player has been suspended by MLB because they were granted immunity in exchange for testimony.)

“Everyone knows Carlos isn’t afraid to wear it on the chin for the guys around him,” McCullers said.

When the Astros took the field in Houston on Friday in a 2018 ALCS rematch, which the Red Sox won en route to a World Series title, Correa had an admirer from afar.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora was the bench coach during the Astros’ infamous 2017 season and led Boston the following season. He lost his job with the Red Sox and was suspended for the 2020 season for his role in the Astros cheating scandal, but he was cleared by MLB of any wrongdoing in connection with a heist plan. lesser placards by Boston in 2018. He was rehired by the Red Sox. Sox ahead of the 2021 season and remains in contact with Correa.

“He’s become one of the best players in the major leagues and he’s still young,” said Cora, a fellow Puerto Rican. “He understands what it takes to compete at this level. It also includes the other part of the game and the numbers that really matter. You talk to him and it opens his eyes and refreshes the way he sees the game and the way he talks about the game. I’m very proud of him. I love this kid.

Joe lemire contributed reports.