Culture / Sporting Life

Carlos Correa is a Defensive Unicorn — and His Presence Makes the Astros Better Every Day

Houston Has One of the Very Best Teams in Baseball Again and the Shortstop is No Small Reason Why

BY // 07.25.21

Carlos Correa is not The Wizard of Oz, doing backflips as he takes his position. He is not Omar Vizquel, making almost every difficult play seem routine, collecting Gold Gloves at the rate Julia Louis-Dreyfus picks up Emmys. Correa is a defensive unicorn of another kind, one who uses force and a rifle of an arm as much as the agility of a much smaller man.

There is no doubting that Correa is having a big season to remember though, one that belongs up there with the defensive best of Ozzie Smith and Vizquel. The Houston Astros free agent shortstop to be is an athletic thinking man’s comet of  a defensive force. Correa is at it again in the Astros’ 4-1 win over their helpless intrastate foe, the Texas Rangers, Saturday night.

The Rangers end the night with two hits and an 11th straight loss — in no small part due to Correa’s new school wizardry. He makes three impressive defensive plays in a two inning span at one point, pushing the Astros to 60 wins (the San Francisco Giants are the only team in the Majors with more), as surely as Framber Valdez and Yordan Alvarez.

Sure, Valdez somehow puts up six hitless innings while issuing six walks and being anything but his best. And Alvarez hits his 18th home run off a 97 MPH fastball and drives in half of Houston’s four runs. But Correa delivers the dazzle. On defense. Yes, he also commits an uncharacteristic error in the seventh inning, but by then the Rangers have long since been subdued.

Joey Gallo comes to the plate in the ninth inning with a runner on against Astros closer Ryan Pressly. But Gallo represents the chance for the slightest bit of drama more than real hope. And promptly strikes out looking without a complaint.

“When I looked up there and I saw it was a no hitter, I can’t believe it because of the amount of walks that were out there,” Astros manager Dusty Baker says of a weird but Astros satisfying night.

Correa seems to put on a defensive show every other night, a twisting, turning, forceful acrobatic reminder of all the Astros get from him in that side of the game. In the top of the fifth inning against Texas, he pulls off back-to-back sparkling plays. He ranges far to his left to reach a bouncing baseball and guns Charlie Culberson out at first. And follows that by making a hard stop of a Jose Trevino grounder for another out.

Then in the sixth, Correa shows off the power of his arm, turning a slow chopper from Adolis Garcia into an out with the speed of his throw to first. There are Marvel superheroes who move at a slower rate than a full-speed Correa throw.

Carlos Correa does not get a big hit every night. Or many nights at all lately. But he’s great theater almost every game no matter what. He’s made defense a major part of the show. Correa gobbles up baseballs at the rate Pac-Man eats dots — and Astros pitchers like Framber Valdez benefit from it nightly.

“It means he’s a team guy,” Astros manager Dusty Baker says of Correa’s nightly defense shows. “And he takes pride in defense. Hitting’s fun. Everybody loves to hit. But defense is work. You know what I mean.

“And at shortstop, you can’t have any mental lapses because you’re in on almost every play.”

Houston Astros beat the Cleveland Indians at Minute Maid Park
The Houston Astros remain among the gold standards of MLB when it comes to winning. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Correa sets the tone for this World Series hunting team as much as Jose Altuve does at this point. It’s about a standard that does not even allow the prospect of a no hitter to distract from the mission at hand.

“Actually, I don’t think anybody really realized a no hitter was going on,” Alvarez says. “Including myself. I didn’t really know until the seventh inning. We were all just focused on the game.”

When the chance at a no hitter does even distract you, you know you’re locked in. Especially when the Rangers have already been no hit twice this season — and often seemed primed to make it a historic three.

Valdez, who memorably benefitted from Carlos Correa’s counsel during the heat of a crucial American League Championship Series moment last October, certainly does not seem impressed with himself for no hitting the Rangers for six innings while struggling with his control. The potential ace wears a Framchise T-shirt after the game that a company sent to him, but it’s more of a fun gimmick than an attitude.

Valdez dismisses the idea of handing out Framchise shirts to his teammates. That’s not how these Astros roll. Instead, it’s all about gobbling up wins. Together.

Astros Nirvana, Rangers Misery

Texas’ two Major League Baseball teams could not be further apart in terms of outlook and attitude.

“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward says. Even though it’s hard to do anything but that. About the only good news for the Rangers this summer is the club’s drafting of Jack Leiter, a potential future ace with serious MLB dad bonafides, with the second overall pick.

Somehow, these Rangers look further behind in their rebuild than when the season began. And the joy over the new ballpark — and it should be a genuine joy, Globe Life Field is a fun place to watch a game — can only last so long.

Carlos Correa seems to put on a defensive show every other night, a twisting, turning, forceful acrobatic reminder of all the Astros get from him in that side of the game.

These days Woodward often sounds like a guy who’s just trying to hang on as his ship sinks. “You’ve got to hold your head up high,” the third-year manager tells Rangers beat writer Evan Grant. “I don’t care if you’re getting your butts kicked every night.”

The truth is you’d much rather have what the Detroit Tigers have than the Rangers. You can see hope with the Tigers. The Rangers have scored the fewest runs in the American League, often giving themselves no chance of winning. On this night, they manage one run. And it comes in the ninth inning.

It is never easy to score against the Astros. Not with Carlos Correa’s nightly magic show. There are all sorts of ways to win in baseball. Having one of the best defensive shortstops in the game is sure one nice way to start.

It’s something no one should take for granted. Unicorns don’t always stick around forever.

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