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Culture / Sporting Life

Carlos Correa Shows James Harden the Clutch Gene, Destroys Boston’s Altuve Plan

Can a Front Row Beard Learn From the Astros?

BY // 10.07.17

With most of Minute Maid Park on its feet, with James Harden sitting in the front row, Carlos Correa steps into the batter’s box and delivers a lesson in pressure. Still just 23, Correa already excels in these scenarios. He loves the big moment. As soon as Jose Altuve is pointed over to first base, intentionally walked for the second straight time, the Boston Red Sox’s fate is sealed.

They just don’t know it yet.

“I don’t think they were disrespecting (Carlos),” Houston Astros outfielder George Springer says later in the clubhouse. “You almost couldn’t blame them. Altuve was like six for seven.”

Yes, the Red Sox walked the best player in baseball… only to find themselves facing the most driven budding superstar in the league. Carlos Correa takes everything personally. His determination to be great is as strong as a pit bull’s lockjaw bite.

When Correa slices a double into the left field corner, driving in two more runs to make it 6-1 Astros, Altuve throws his own arms into the air, seemingly even more excited about the moment than Correa. This is what the clutch gene looks like.

There is no way Correa is not going to come through if given enough chances in the big moment.

One has to hope that Harden is paying attention as Correa rises to the occasion again (see the World Baseball Classic, the walkoff hits, etc, etc..) — and the Astros batter and beat the Red Sox 8-2 again in Game, making it Houston 16, Boston 4 overall through two games in a playoff series once seemingly speeding toward a quick finish.

Correa is back at it Sunday in Boston’s storied Fenway Park, hitting a first inning home run to push the Astros to a 3-0 lead. This time, the advantage doesn’t hold with the Red Sox roaring back to win 10-3, but the Astros can still end things in a Game 4 that starts a little after 12 p.m. on this Monday.

The Houston Rockets franchise player — whose own playoff failures are well documented — could learn something from the younger Correa. Maybe, it’s fitting that on the day that Houston billionaire tycoon Tilman Fertitta is officially approved as the new owner of the Rockets, the Astros come through again, emerging as the most dominant team of the first four days of the baseball playoffs.

It’s not hard to imagine Fertitta looking down La Branch Street to another sport to see the type of team he’d love to have. Fertitta lived through the Clutch City heyday and is smart enough to see that moniker is now much more apt for the town’s baseball team.

“With the depth of our team, it’s not the same guy every day. Except it’s always Altuve Day.”

On this day, many of the Astros are just happy to see Harden, whose worldwide celebrity does not go unnoticed by baseball players, sitting there, showing them love. One of the great things about Houston is how the fourth-largest city in America can sometimes seem like a small town — and this comes through in the way Houston professional sports team athletes all seem to show up to root for each other, like they’re all part of one big high school or something.

“It’s really cool,” Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel says. “As athletes it’s nice to have support from the other teams, especially with guys well known like James and J.J. (Watt), and I mean it just makes it truly special.

“I know as baseball players we’re fans of the other teams as well. So just to be reciprocated means a lot to us and it really does kind of make our day.”

Who Owns Clutch City Now?

The Astros are threatening to make this their year, one big hit at a time. No other team in the playoffs (not the 104-win Dodgers, not the 102-win Cleveland Indians who needed an epic comeback to go up 2-0 on the flawed Yankees) is currently playing as well as Houston.

These Astros are as relentless as a debt collector, as annoying to opposing pitchers (and managers) as the worst of the Real Housewives. Red Sox manager John Farrell looks pained two hours before  first pitch.

Imagine what he must feel when the game actually starts. New Three-Home-Run-Legend Altuve receives a true full standing ovation when he comes to the plate with two outs and no one on in the bottom of the first. He promptly rockets the first pitch he sees 10 feet over the second baseman’s head for a loud single. Then, Correa steps in and smacks a two-run homer.

The Astros just keep putting the pressure on. How the Red Sox would kill for a clean inning. Nothing comes easy against this Houston team. No outs are conceded.

“It’s huge,” Springer says. “With the depth of our team, it’s not the same guy every day. Except it’s always Altuve Day.”

It soon may be always Correa Day too. This towering shortstop already knows how to seize the biggest moments. That’s often a skill much more difficult to acquire than just compiling stats. Just ask Harden about that.

The monster stat years will come for Carlos Correa too. But he may just seize an October first.

“Sometimes you have to slap yourself and realize he’s 22 years old,” veteran catcher Brian McCann says. (Correa actually turned 23 just two weeks ago.) “He’s young. He’s only going to get better.”

He’s already terrorizing an old baseball manager.

“You can’t do it too many times with guys like that,” McCann says of Farrell’s decision to walk Altuve to get to Correa. “They’re so good. It’s pick your poison.”

Electing to give Correa a chance in the clutch is no sane man’s plan. Correa lives for it. “I enjoy every time he gets to hit,” Altuve says. These unselfish, relentless, pressure-loving Astros wouldn’t have it any other way. Hopefully, The Beard is taking notes.

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