Culture / Sporting Life

Mr. Walk-Off — the True Inside Story of Carlos Correa’s Latest Unbelievable October Home Run

From 2004 Red Sox Inspiration to a Frantic Adjustment, Dusty Baker's Prayers and Saving Framber

BY // 10.16.20

Dusty Baker admits he prayed to everyone short of Mother Teresa and Mickey Mantle. The Houston Astros manager knew his team was running out of time. With the bullpen spent, with young starter Framber Valdez forced to start warming up, Baker knew the Astros could not wait for a moment. Someone had to create one. Luckily, Carlos Correa was coming up.

“You have nightmares of going 15 innings or something,” Baker says.

The Astros would only need nine. Correa grabs October again, sending a Nick Anderson fastball skyrocketing into centerfield. A playoff walk-off. Again.

This time, Correa sends the Tampa Bay Rays reeling back into their dugout, shellshocked by a 4-3 Astros win that keeps this American League Championship Series going into a once improbable Game 6. Correa flips his bat to kingdom come, cups his ear like usual as he rounds third base, shoots his batting helmet at home plate like it’s a basketball and sets off one of the most joyful home run celebrations these Core Astros have ever seen.

Jose Altuve looks he’s having an out-of-body experience as twists his frame in pure happy delirium as he comes bounding out of the dugout.

“That was as big of a hit as I’ve ever been involved in,” says the 71-year-old Baker, whose been around baseball’s biggest stages for nearly 50 years. “Man that was sweet. That was as sweet as it gets right there.”

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It had to be Correa, the man who’s built for the big stage like Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan was. For the 26-year-old, it’s already his second career walk-off playoff home run. No man has hit more in the history of the game. It’s Correa’s third walk-off playoff hit — and he’s only playing in his fifth postseason.

And oh yeah, he called his own shot this time.

First, Correa tells Altuve he is about to end it coming off the field after the top of the ninth. Then, he informs his manager in the dugout to not stress. This 3-3 game is about to be won, throwing a series on its head.

After Correa does finish it, just in time to save Valdez for Game 6 and give the Astros a real shot at joining those curse breaking, legendary 2004 Red Sox as the only teams to ever win a playoff series after being down 3-0, Baker wraps him in a hug just off home plate. The manager does not seem like he wants to let go either.

“If you really want to know what I told him,” Correa says later of his embrace with Baker. “I said, ‘I fucking told you!’ ”

And now these almost universally nationally hated Astros, the team branded as cheaters for that 2017 electronic sign stealing scandal, are in position t0 remind the world of their true greatness, Whether anyone outside of Houston likes it or not. (Spoiler alert: They don’t.)

“You push our backs up against the wall and we’re going to fight you,” Astros closer Ryan Pressly says. “This team is full of fighters — and I’m proud to be part of it.”

The Real Charm — Yes Charm — of Carlos Correa and These 2020 Astros

If only the rest of the baseball-loving universe could step away from Twitter for a moment and appreciate the wild, unbelievable show these undermanned and beaten on 2020 Astros are putting on. No matter. Houston vs. the world is awfully fun, too.

If the rest of baseball wants to cast the Astros as villains, they’ll turn into the best you-cannot-kill-them horror movie villains of all time.

There is no real logical way to explain why these 2020 Astros are still standing, still playing, still stealing playoff games. With heart. And real, hard-earned championship mettle. From under .500 and often lost during the regular season to roaring into a fourth straight American League Championship Series. From down 0-3 to the best and most talented team in the league all season to back within a win of sending this to a Game 7.

This is what sports fairytales are made of. And the Astros are not sorry for grabbing theirs.

“That was as big of a hit as I’ve ever been involved in,” says the 71-year-old Baker, whose been around baseball’s biggest stages for nearly 50 years. “Man that was sweet. That was as sweet as it gets right there.”

Houston third baseman Alex Bregman shows Correa parts of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary on those 2004 Red Sox, who stunned the Yankees down 0-3 in another ALCS to break an 86-year curse, between Games 4 and 5 of this series. Let’s just say, some of those lessons sure seem to be seeping in.

“It was inspiring,” Correa says of the documentary on another band of baseball outcasts and rebels who made history.

Of course, Correa does not get this moment without The Adjustment. When Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron urgently pulls Correa aside after his second at-bat of the game, everything changes for this Houston team. Cintron’s seen a flaw in Correa’s swing and he insists on fixing it in the moment.

“He’s got this face like he’s in desperation mode,” Correa says of how Cintron approached him. ” ‘Come! Come! Come! We’ve got to fix you. You’re doing everything wrong. You’re standing at the plate wrong. That’s why you’re not seeing the ball. That’s why you’re not driving it.’

“I’m like, ‘OK, OK, OK ‚— what do I need to do?’ ”

Cintron brings Correa into the indoor batting cage at Petco Park and shows the former No. 1 pick in the draft how his front shoulder is too closed up. The hitting coach grabs Correa’s shoulder and shows him how it needs to be positioned.

Hey, magic does not happen without a good rehearsal.

Correa and Astros Coaching Magic

The Astros are still benefitting from the superb coaching staff that worked under banished manager A.J. Hinch. Cintron and Brent Strom, the Pitching Yoda who somehow got the Astros through this elimination game using five rookie pitchers, both coached under Hinch. Their excellence — and the Astros’ — continues with Baker.

Still, no coaching in the world can help a man find the wherewithal to stare down the pressure of a ninth inning tie game in an October elimination game — and smile. Correa just absolutely loves these moments.

Who knows who many times he’s told a teammate he’s going to win a game right there, right now? But he still believes it every time. Carlos Correa just knows he’s going to save the day.

When he does — all hell has broken loose in the ALCS. The Rays go from a seeming cakewalk to the World Series to suddenly finding all the pressure on them in Friday night’s Game 6.

“I don’t think anybody’s worried,” Nick Anderson, the losing pitcher, tells reporters afterwards.

One thing’s certain. The Astros certainly are not. They’re having one of those Correa playoff parties at home plate.

“It’s surreal man,” Correa says of his post walk-off fun in arguably the happiest Zoom interview of all time. “I lose it every single time. I don’t know what I do. I black out every single time.”

Some things are worth losing your mind for. October moments like this just don’t come around every often. Unless you’re Carlos Correa.

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