HOUSTON — More than a few times in a tense afternoon, the Astros had to hold their breath about whether events would turn their way. It worked out at just the right time, every time, partly because they were lucky and mostly because they play in a manner that can take your breath away.
Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, his fellow dynamic middle infielder, have a way of giving fate a helpful nudge with their skill and aggressiveness. They did that on the game-deciding play, a double by Correa that gave the Astros a 2-1 win over the Yankees and a 2-0 lead in the American League Championship Series. As winning pitcher Justin Verlander said, “No two guys, in my opinion, in all of baseball would you rather have up in that situation than Jose and Carlos.”
Altuve had downplayed his three-hit performance Friday night, saying, “Well, I’m batting zero tomorrow. I have no hits tomorrow.” That signified that he takes nothing for granted. He had two more hits on Saturday, including the one-out single in the ninth that got things going.
Correa was up next and drilled a shot to the right-centerfield gap. Altuve followed the direction of aggressive third-base coach Gary Pettis and steamed toward home, appearing to be a dead duck. “Obviously, I saw Gary Sanchez trying to get the ball way before I got to home plate, but I also knew it wasn’t an easy play for him,” Altuve said. “I’m happy he didn’t catch it and we ended up winning the game.”
Teammates swarmed Altuve and Correa, satisfied that their club had done many little things at the right moments. In contrast with the Yankees’ unsuccessful relay in the ninth, Correa made an expert relay to retire Brett Gardner to end the third when he tried to stretch a double into a triple.
“It’s the greatest feeling ever,” Correa said. “Winning is always fun, but winning in the playoffs in such an important spot is even bigger.”
He was grateful that a review did not overturn his home run to rightfield in the fourth. Aaron Judge jumped at the rightfield fence but was unable to snare it (as he had done against Francisco Lindor at Yankee Stadium last week). A young Astros fan got his glove on it first. The team held its breath until the review showed that the kid did not interfere illegally. “I love that kid. I want to leave that kid tickets,” manager A.J. Hinch said.
Said Correa, “I was jogging around the bases and I said, ‘I ain’t going back to second if they review it.’ So I was hoping the play stands, and it stood.”
On this day, the Astros stood, too.