Carlos Correa knows a few things about walk-offs. This is a celebration after an earlier game winner this season. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa and the Astros know how to celebrate. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa knows his swing is pure. (Photo by F. Carter Smith).
Aledmys Diaz started the bottom of the ninth rally with a double. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Aledmys Diaz has delivered some big hits for the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Roberto Osuna has been a dominant closer for the Houston Astros for most of the season. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Mookie Betts and the Red Sox have fond October memories of Minute Maid Park. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Brad Peacock is bringing the heat for the Houston Astros now that he's back in the rotation. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Rafael Devers is one of the best young players in baseball. He'll see a lot of the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Aledmys Diaz is doing a little off everything for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Mookie Betts is one of the best players in baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa continues to swing with authority for the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa is one of the bats the Astros need to get going. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa is ready to celebrate. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The Houston Astros don’t need any trust exercises. Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and company’s trust in each other is absolute. No backwards free falls, counting-on-somebody-to-catch-them routines — or corporate shamans — necessary.
This is one of the more underrated aspects of what’s shaping up to be the best team in baseball again. (With no apologies to the hot-for-now Minnesota Twins.)
These Astros just believe in each other. That is how Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley do not feel any extra pressure to try and play hero in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game with the Boston Red Sox. Bregman and Brantley don’t press in no small part because they’re confident the guys behind them will deliver.
They’ll let Red Sox closer-of-the-day Matt Barnes throw himself into more and more dire trouble. They won’t reach for a bad pitch. They’ll take the walks, knowing that Carlos Correa will come through.
When Barnes load the bases without recording an out, Correa does just that. He slices the fifth pitch he sees from the Red Sox reliever into all the open grass in right field. Correa throws his arms out before even reaching first base. And then he just stands there, arms still up, waiting for the happy stampede of teammates coming his way.
It is almost like Correa is asking, “What’d you expect?”
With these 2019 Houston Astros this is increasingly exactly what one expects. A 4-3 win over the defending champion Red Sox for the second straight night, a second straight series win over Boston wrapped up even before the Sunday finale. Another statement delivered.
One that seems to be getting through to the New Englanders down the hall.
“You’re talking about one of the best teams in baseball, if not the best team in baseball right now,” Barnes tells reporters in the Red Sox clubhouse while trying to explain what unraveled against the Astros.
Yes, this Houston team is hard to keep down. Rudy Tomjanovich would call it the heart of a champion. To the more new school A.J. Hinch, it’s more honed good habits.
“Bregman and Brantley — very mature at-bats with the game on the line,” the Astros manager says. “And not trying to do too much. Not trying to play hero. If it happened, it happened.
“… Those two at-bats just means this team has confidence to just keep handing the baton to the next guy.”
Bregman and Brantley are willing to let someone else be the hero if it’s better for the team. On this Memorial Day weekend Saturday night, in front of a lit, loud crowd of 40,722, it is Carlos Correa’s turn. And he’s more than happy to oblige.
“I’m thinking ‘I’ve got to finish this game,’ ” Correa says of his mindset hitting with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the ninth. “I didn’t really want to give the at-bat to (the next hitter) Yuli (Gurriel). A walk or a sac fly would get the job done.
“Not trying to do too much.”
So Correa just walks off another Astros win, knocking that clean single into right with Boston playing five infielders.
Just like that, the Astros are 4-1 against the Red Sox this season, 7-1 against the American League East juggernauts of New York and Boston all together. Hinch’s team is beating the best teams in the league, the ones that figure to still be looming when the October stage is finally set.
This weekend, they’re doing it without Jose Altuve (the 2017 AL MVP) and George Springer (an early contender for the 2019 AL MVP).
How good does the shellshocked Matt Barnes think the Astros are going to be when those two are back?
Stars Down, Roll On
In truth, these now 35-18 Astros are finding ways to win at the moment. They don’t have nearly as many stars as usual. So they get a leadoff double from Aledmys Diaz, who is hitting in Springer’s usual spot, to start the ninth. And six shutout innings from Brad Peacock, the 31-year-old starter who was never given a chance to make the rotation last season.
Of course, it also helps to have Correa, hitting like he always does now that he’s healthy.
“Carlos comes up with a really big at-bat,” Hinch says.
That’s what these Astros do. Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow does not seem at all motivated to call up Yordan Alvarez or Kyle Tucker to provide a talent infusion at the moment. Instead, the remaining stars stand tall. No matter what is going on around them.
Closer Roberto Osuna blows a save — and a two-run ninth inning lead — in the span of six pitches? No matter, the Astros come right back and win it in their next turn at-bat.
“That’s unbelievable, that’s unbelievable,” a smiling Osuna says when asked about the Astros’ offensive response. “I remember when I was on Toronto in ’17 I believe, they scored four runs on me in the ninth inning. I know how good this team is.”
The Astros are good no matter what is going on around them.
Last weekend’s series between baseball’s last two World Series champions played out like high drama in Fenway Park. This Memorial Day weekend series at Minute Maid is playing out like some off-kilter alternative concert.
Bizarre things keep happening.
Like Red Sox starter David Price getting pulled from the game after only three batters and 15 pitches because of what’s later deemed “flu-like symptoms” by team representatives. Did Price suddenly think he might be sort of sick after about a dozen pitches?
What’s next? Bizarro Kramer comes knocking on the door?
When Josh Reddick finally breaks a scoreless tie with a sharp single in the bottom of the sixth inning, a packed Minute Maid Park explodes in noise. It’s suddenly near October loud.
This place is ready to party. And the Astros are happy to keep it going — no matter how many MVP caliber hitters they happen to be missing.
This is a team to believe in — one that trusts each other like few others. It turns out that walk-offs beat trust falls. Every time.