Houston Astros: Carlos Correa beats the Yankees two different ways

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 13: Carlos Correa #1 of the Houston Astros hits a walk-off solo home run during the eleventh inning against the New York Yankees to win game two of the American League Championship Series 3-2 at Minute Maid Park on October 13, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 13: Carlos Correa #1 of the Houston Astros hits a walk-off solo home run during the eleventh inning against the New York Yankees to win game two of the American League Championship Series 3-2 at Minute Maid Park on October 13, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

The Houston Astros star shortstop Carlos Correa beats the New York Yankees with his arm and then with his bat.

Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa beat the New York Yankees twice Sunday night…with his arm and then with his bat. He’s the reason the American League Championship Series returns to Yankee Stadium Tuesday tied at a game each.

With Sunday’s second game of the series tied 2-2, Correa retrieved second baseman Jose Altuve’s fielding error in time to throw out D.J. LeMahieu at home plate.

His play preserved the tie, which held until the bottom of the 11th, which Correa led off by launching a J.A. Happ fastball into the seats in right field for a 3-2 game-winner.

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Here are the key moments leading to Sunday’s outcome.

Second inning. Until Sunday, it had been a bad post-season for Correa, hitless in his last 14 at-bats.  That only ratcheted up the pressure when he came to the plate with Alex Bregman at third, Yordan Alvarez at first and one out.

After Yankee starter James Paxton missed on two pitches, he center-cut an offspeed pitch. Correa turned on it and sent it into left field, scoring Bregman with the game’s first run.

Third inning. When Michael Brantley and Jose Altuve delivered back-to-back base hits, Yankees manager Aaron Boone emerged from his dugout and hooked Paxton. It was an interesting maneuver since Paxton had allowed only the one run, and thrown just 51 pitches.

Boone plainly was counting on the depth of his bullpen. The short-term strategy worked. His next five relievers – Chad Green, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman – held the Houston Astros to a single run and just two hits through the ninth inning.

What Boone couldn’t have counted on at the time was extra innings. Eventually, he ran through his Type-A arms, and that’s when the Astros closed the deal.

Fourth inning. Astros starter Justin Verlander sailed uneventfully through the first three innings and started the fourth by getting D.J. LeMahieu in an 0-2 hole. But then Verlander got cautious, missing to LeMahieu three times with low breaking balls and then walking him on a high heater.

Gifted with a teammate at first, Aaron Judge took maximum advantage. When Verlander challenged him with a flat slider out over the plate, Judge sent it into the right-field seats to give New York a 2-1 lead.

Fifth inning. Relieving Paxton in the third, Green retired all six Astros he faced, striking out two of them. But modern relief strategy frowns on using the same more than about 20 to 25 pitches. With one ou tin the fifth, Green had thrown 26 so Boone pulled him in favor of Ottavino.

Springer extracted instant retribution for the move, sending Ottavino’s first pitch out toward the train tracks above the left-field wall at 105.6 mph. His shot tied the game at 2-2.

Sixth inning. Correa’s defensive play bailed Verlander out of probably his worst inning. LeMahieu opened it with a 99 mph base hit, and Judge followed with a 96.7 mph line fly that Springer ran under. Gleyber Torres also singled, a shot off the glove of Alex Bregman at third.

After Encarnacion flew out, Brett Gardner sent a 95.7 mph blast hurtling toward Altuve at second. He merely deflected it, but the ball bounced conveniently toward Correa. With LeMahieu rounding third and heading home, he alertly fielded the ball and fired to Chirinos in time to gun down the runner for the inning’s third out.

The offensive desert. For the ensuing 35 batters, nobody registered so much as a base hit. Six batters did reach, but all on walks. It wasn’t so much that both teams failed in clutch situations; there were no clutch situations. Until Altuve and Bregman walked consecutively with one out in the 10th, not a single batter after the sixth came to the plate with a runner in scoring position.

The offensive drought didn’t end until Brett Gardner sent a base hit into right field with Edwin Encarnacion at first and two out in the top of the 11th.

Frontier justice. Yanks catcher Gary Sanchez followed Gardner to the plate with a chance to drive Encarnacion across. What ensued was one of that epic mini-drama at-bats that by its end had morphed into a morality play.

Facing Houston Astros reliever Josh James, Sanchez went almost immediately into beast mode. He fouled off an eye-high fastball, then fouled off another pitch six inches outside. James found the strike zone with his third pitch, and Sanchez sent then crashing into the rafters above home plate.

A ball that was too far outside for even Sanchez to bite at followed, then four more fouls, two well outside.  For his ninth pitch, James delivered a slider outside and in the dirt. Sanchez cut and missed, but was reprieved when plate umpire Cory Blaser ruled he had tipped the ball. Replays showed Sanchez cleanly missed it and should have struck out.

That’s where the morality play aspect kicked in. The at-bat’s10th pitch was another fastball, about as far outside as most of the other pitches Sanchez had already cut at. This time he laid off…only to hear Blaser ring him up on strike three. Somewhere, Judge Roy Bean had to smile.

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Correa’s homer. There’s not much to say about the winning shot. It came on a first-pitch belt-high fastball out over the plate, exactly what Houston Astros shortstop Correa said after the game he was looking for. The ball landed several rows into the right-field seats and sent everybody at Minute Maid Park home happy.