Carlos Correa is the lifeline of this Astros team in many ways. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa makes the Houston Astros go in so many ways. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Red Sox Alex Cora is used to postseason success. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros pitching coach Brent Strom has seen Lance McCullers Jr. grow into a true No. 1 starter. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Lance McCullers Jr. is not coming back for the Astros this series. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Rafael Devers and Carlos Correa are two of the brightest stars in all of baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Talk about couples in baseball. Carlos Correa and his wife Daniella and Alex Bregman and his wife Reagan pose on the field after the Astros clinched the AL West title. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros shortstop Carlos Correa changes games with his glove. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa may be the best defensive shortstop in baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros rookie Jake Meyers brought his parents alone for the postseason fun. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
When you hit baseballs as far as Yordan Alvarez does, you need to refuel. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The Houston Astros defeated the Chicago White Sox 6-1 behind the pitching of Lance McCullers with a home runs from Yordan Alvarez during the opening game of the American League Division Series,Thursday October 7, 2021 at Minute Maid Park.
Carlos Correa takes pride in bringing it on the defensive side. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell took selfies with some fans. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
BOSTON — Alex Rodriguez calls Carlos Correa a $400 million player. And A-Rod knows a thing or two about massive baseball contracts. The declaration — which A-Rod has not been shy about making on Fox — surely makes Correa and his agent smile.
There are plenty of baseball numbers — the analytical ones that smart GMs and owners focus on — to justify paying Correa such a mega sum. He is the best defensive shortstop in the game, an offensive impact bat and one of the most proven postseason commodities in baseball. But the Houston Astros need something else from Correa on what could be his last road trip with the franchise that drafted him No. 1 overall.
Locked in a 1-1 series with the Boston Red Sox that almost feels like a deficit with the ace-less Astros’ pitching situation, the Astros need Correa’s next level leadership skills. They need the guy who always seems to know what to say to his teammates, what button to push. For make no mistake, during this golden age of Astros baseball, this Houston team has never faced a situation quite like this.
The Astros’ lone ace, Lance McCullers Jr., is out for the series with an arm injury. And the club’s rookie regular season pitching savior, Luis Garcia, is dealing with a knee injury and some shaky playoff starts. The Astros did not make a serious pitch for Max Scherzer — or any other starting pitchers — at the trade deadline. Now, they could be paying for it in the mad bandbox of Fenway Park.
Which brings us back to Carlos Correa, the Leader. In many ways, this 27-year-old free agent superstar to be is the man who must steady the Astros. He may be the only man who can do it. Especially with the Astros relying on deeper rotation pitchers and a prayer.
“There are times I go to the mound to talk to pitchers and Carlos has already beaten me to the mound,” Astros pitching guru Brent Strom says. “I just back off and say OK. I’ve been around Carlos long enough to know this guy has intangible leadership qualities that are way beyond his years. He knows how to act. When I go to the mound and I talk to a pitcher, he’s right there with me confirming. Whether it’s English or Spanish.
“I can’t say enough about Carlos’ leadership qualities.”
This Fenway gauntlet with the Astros short any aces may be the ultimate test of these qualities. The Astros need to win one game at Fenway to guarantee themselves a Game 6 back in Houston Friday night. If they can win two of the three games, they’ll take control of this American League Championship Series.
Which might just take someone going nuclear — and carrying the team. Luckily, Alex Rodriguez thinks that Carlos Correa is more than capable of this too.
“This guy is simply LeBron James, what he is to baseball,” Rodriguez says of Correa. “What I mean by that is he’s a shortstop. He’s 6-foot-4. He looks like he could be playing strong safety in the NFL. He could play two guard in the NBA. He’s world class. Any field he’s on, he’s the best player. He’s the strongest. He’s the fastest.”
Of course, it is a lot easier for one star to carry a team in basketball. Baseball is more democratic, more dependent on what those around you are doing.
Carlos Correa, the LeBron James of Baseball?
Still, if anyone can give the Astros a chance to overcome the playoff juju of his old friend Alex Cora, it’s probably Correa. The Red Sox’s scandal-tied manager is not 16-5 in the playoffs by accident. He knows how to keep his guys motivated and energized — and he’ll be pushing Boston to turn the pressure up on the Astros every pitch at Fenway.
There is the sense that this Houston team is wounded with its pitching uncertainty. Especially after the Astros gave up two grand slams in that 9-5 Game 2 loss. They are the only team in baseball history to give up two slams in one playoff game. But Houston could need some more high scoring battles to have a real chance at grabbing control of the series in Fenway.
“Do some more,” Astros manager Dusty Baker says of his team’s offense, which is averaging 6.8 runs per game in the playoffs. “You don’t have much choice, you know, so we just have to do some more.”
Correa may need to convince his guys that is possible. One leadership moment at a time.
“I’ve been around Carlos long enough to know this guy has intangible leadership qualities that are way beyond his years. He knows how to act.” — Brent Strom
“America, Carlos Correa is the real deal,” A-Rod says.
He’s also suddenly may be the last real hope for the ace-less Astros. If this is going to be his last road trip with this special team, the burden’s never been more immense. Or real for Carlos Correa.