Carlos Correa started walking toward first base, grabbing the barrel of the bat with his right hand and looking into the home dugout to make sure that they, too, were seeing what he was seeing. He then discarded the bat calmly and put that same right hand to his ear, gesturing to the Houston fans that he wanted to hear their delight. Hand still to his ear, he took a few hops down the line, slowly making his way toward first base.
It was only then -- after the ball had landed in the right field stands, after he'd ended one of this postseason's best games with one swing, after he'd saved the Astros from facing a nearly insurmountable 2-0 series deficit heading to New York -- that he started trotting, in no hurry to make the moment end. After rounding third base he lobbed his helmet like a basketball jump shot at the crowd waiting for him at home plate. It was his second-prettiest shot of the night.
Correa's solo homer leading off the bottom of the 11th inning gave the Astros a 3-2 win in Sunday's American League Championship Series Game 2, tying the best-of-seven series at 1-1 after the Yankees dominated in a 7-0 Game 1 victory. The homer kept the Astros from having to win four of their next five games, the first three of which will be played in enemy territory in the Bronx.
It was an exciting end to an intense game that started nearly five hours earlier and saw the two teams' relievers -- 13 in all -- allow just two runs over 12 combined innings of work. Both runs were yielded by the Yankees. The last one, by starter-turned-reliever J.A. Happ, was decisive.
And it was Correa, the same one who ended it, that got the scoring started. The shortstop got the Astros on the board in the second inning when he cracked an RBI double off Yankees starter James Paxton to plate Alex Bregman. Paxton lasted just 2 1/3 innings, as Yankees manager Aaron Boone had a quick trigger for the erratic southpaw.
The move looked even better when the Yankees took the lead in the fourth on an Aaron Judge two-run homer. The home run, a shot to right-center field off Astros starter Justin Verlander, was the first this postseason for the 27-year-old.
It was a short-lived lead for the Yanks, though, as after two strong innings of relief from Chad Green they called on Adam Ottavino to face Astros leadoff hitter George Springer. Springer jumped on a spinning slider from Ottavino and deposited it into the Crawford Boxes in left field to tie the game at 2-2.
The best scoring chance either team had before Correa's 11th-inning strike was in the 10th, when Boone began scraping the bottom of the bullpen barrel against the middle of the Astros order. Boone used starter C.C. Sabathia to retire Michael Brantley but Jonathan Loaisiga, who had never pitched on back-to-back days, struggled to find the zone in walking Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. With a runner in scoring position and one out Boone then turned to Happ, who struck out Yordan Alvarez and got Yuli Gurriel to pop out to left field to end the threat.
Neither team could generate much in the way of offense against the opposing team's bullpen. In fact, outside of Ottavino the teams combined for two hits against relievers, including Correa's dinger.
The series now shifts to Yankee Stadium, where the two teams will reconvene Tuesday. The Yankees will turn to Luis Severino while the Astros will look for another stellar outing from Gerrit Cole. Should be fun.
Slugger Stanton Sidelined With Quad Strain
The Yankees' team-specific hashtag is #NextManUp, a mantra they've carried through a litany of injuries this season.
The saying continues to ring true in the postseason.
The team played Sunday's American League Championship Series Game 2 without star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who suffered a strained right quadriceps muscle in his first at-bat Saturday. Stanton sustained the injury running out a ground ball but stayed in the game, eventually being replaced for defensive purposes by Cameron Maybin in the eighth.
In his stead, Maybin started in left field Sunday. Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Stanton was available to pinch-hit Sunday and that the team isn't considering removing Stanton from the roster, which would end his postseason.
“We’re hoping that it's something that with today and [Monday’s] off-day, he would be back in play for Game 3,” Boone said before Sunday's game. “We'll just kind of see how these next 48 hours unfold. He would be available tonight to hit or go in in an emergency situation.”
Regardless of how long Stanton is sidelined, the blow is obviously a big one for the finally-healthy Yanks. Stanton homered in Saturday's Game 1 win and is hitting .300/.467/.600 in four games this postseason.
We'll see how the slugger responds after Monday's off day.
Managerial Musical Chairs
The music hasn't yet stopped for any of the managerial openings across MLB, but some new players are beginning to emerge in pursuit of chairs.
The most interesting, at least in many eyes, is Carlos Beltran, who interviewed for the Mets' manager job this past Thursday. On Sunday, Beltran told media that he's declined interview requests from the Padres and Cubs for their openings, interested only in the Mets job.
Beltran, of course, played for the Mets from 2005 to 2011. He also played for the crosstown Yankees for two-and-a-half seasons, and he's currently a special advisor to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
Elsewhere, the Phillies have a couple high-profile candidates coming in for interviews this week, with the Chicago Tribune's Mark Gonzales reporting the club will interview Dusty Baker this week and former Orioles manager Buck Showalter set to interview Monday, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. The team is expected to interview former Yankees manager Joe Girardi as well.
Staying in Pennsylvania, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported Sunday that Diamondbacks director of player development Mike Bell is being considered for the Pirates' manager job. Other known candidates for the Bucs gig include former Rangers manager Jeff Banister, Twins bench coach Derek Shelton and Phillies player information coordinator Sam Fuld.
The Giants, Royals, Angels and the aforementioned Padres and Cubs are also in the market for a new manager this offseason. No new hires have been made to this point.
Quick Hits: Victor Robles (hamstring) was slated to do some more running Sunday and is expected to take batting practice prior to Monday's NLCS Game 3. When asked Sunday, Nationals manager Dave Martinez was not willing to say whether he thought Robles would be in the lineup for Game 3. Robles has not played since tweaking his right hamstring in Game 2 of the NLDS. Michael Taylor has been filling in for him in center field.