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HOUSTON – It was a small moment, and it may have gone unnoticed by many who watched Game 4 of the American League Division series claimed against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday by the despised Houston Astros. But it captured exactly what Astro’s shortstop Carlos Correa meant to his team.
When Jake Meyers, a rookie midfielder, hit his left shoulder against the outfield wall while attempting to steal a home run from Chicago in the second inning and sagged to the ground in pain, his fellow outfielder ran to him, as did his manager and a sports trainer.
Not only did Correa do the same, he also took the lead. Meyers, 25, wanted to stay in the game and made a few practice throws, but Correa persuaded him not to.
“I said, ‘Dad, if you are unable to take a throw on home plate when you need it most, you shouldn’t stay in the game,'” Correa said later. Then, referring to replacement outfielder Chas McCormick, he said, “’You should let Chas take over and trust your teammates. We have that.'”
Correa continued: “He did his best. He almost caught the ball. He is a special child. “
Correa was something special for the Astros.
When the Astros won the 2017 World Series and missed another win in 2019, he was their star shortstop. When in November 2019 their cheating on their title winning season came to light and they were punished, he became the de facto spokesman for the clubhouse, delivering the most passionate apologies and explanations for their actions. When faced with a firestorm of anger and resentment from fans and opposing players that continues to this day, he emerged as the Astros’ best all-round player and was the one most willing to push back publicly – with a touch of Cockiness.
It was as if Correa, a professional wrestling fan, had taken on the role of a heel, the antagonist in the ring. For his teammates, he had become not only one of the best players in baseball, but an even bigger leader who, through their self-caused confusion, led them to their fifth straight appearance in the American League Championship Series, which began on Friday night with a 5-4 win over the Boston Red Sox in Houston.
Correa’s solo homer in the seventh inning gave Houston the lead to stay in a game that had dragged through his early innings.
“It’s just my job to go out and do the best for the team and that is to give the players the right information, to inspire the guys when they are down, to motivate them to go out and play for the team “Correa said on the field in Chicago after his team toppled the White Sox on Tuesday.
“I feel like it’s all natural,” he continued. “It’s in me. It’s what I love to do. I like making players better. Whenever someone comes to this clubhouse, I try my best to give them the right information so that they can become a better player. “
Correa was selected by the Astros from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School with the first overall selection in the 2012 draft and has been Houston’s daily shortstop since he was 20 in 2015. Although he only made his Major League debut in June that season and suffered injuries in later seasons, he is the third most valuable shortstop in the Major Leagues as he wins above substitute stats according to FanGraphs, just behind Francisco Lindor, now of the Mets, and Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox.
This season Correa, who turned 27 last month, has improved his stable field. According to the Baseball Reference, he led the majors in defensive wins over replacements. As a right-hander, he hit 0.279 with 26 homers, 92 runs and a 0.850 on base plus slugging percentage on a roster that topped the Major Leagues and had the lowest strikeout rate.
“I saw him come here as a 17-year-old boy, a shy boy at that, and he really matured into one of the best players in our game,” said Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who lived with Correa in the small leagues.
He continued, “Watching him grow and see how he is as successful as he has become, the work he has put into getting to this point is pretty amazing.”
Correa is the vocal captain of a group of Astros – all infielder – who have carried the team through this five-year win period. No four teammates in major league history have played more posts-season games together (62) than first baseman Yuli Gurriel, second baseman Jose Altuve, third baseman Alex Bregman and Correa.
“The core of every team is very important,” said Correa. “And the core of this team was spectacular in the playoffs. The front office did a great job and gave us a great team every year to be competitive. “
He later added, “We don’t get tired of these moments, so they are special and we will do our best when October comes.”
Gurriel noted how difficult it was to hold a foursome together and win in today’s game. He, Altuve and Bregman all signed contracts to stay with Houston. However, Correa will be a free agent after the playoffs.
“Hopefully Carlos will sign here to stay together,” Gurriel said in Spanish. “But it’s always difficult and that’s a business and we have to understand that. In the last few years he has taken on this leadership role and he has done well. “
With Correa reaching the major league so young, he’ll hit the free agent market at his prime for a massive long-term contract. Although he and Astros owner Jim Crane have announced they want to continue the relationship, the largest and longest contracts Crane has given Correa’s back office teammates were: $ 151 million over five years to Altuve and $ 100 million – Dollars over five years to Bregman.
Given the 2021 season and Correa’s age, he’s ready to beat them and get the biggest deal of the loaded free agent class of shortstops this winter. And given his success in October – his 55 post-season career RBI are the most active players – he’s a proven performer.
“Carlos was one of the greatest big game players in the history of the Astros, and even the history of the game, and I don’t hear him talk about it,” said Dusty Baker, who took over the helm from AJ Hinch, who was fired from the Astros and was suspended from Major League Baseball following its investigation.
In all aspects of the game, Correa picked up the Astros.
“This guy has intangible leadership skills that go well beyond his years and he knows how to act,” said Brent Strom, Astros pitching coach. “When I go to the hill and talk to a mug, he’s right with me and confirms what I’m talking about, be it in English or Spanish.”
When the anger raged over the franchise’s cheating scandal last season and this year, Correa was the 2017 former astro most likely to be ready to speak openly about it. (No players have been banned from MLB for being granted immunity in exchange for a testimony.)
“Everyone knows Carlos isn’t afraid to wear it on his chin for the guys around him,” McCullers said.
When the Astros entered the field on Friday in Houston in a rematch of the 2018 ALCS, which the Red Sox won en route to the World Series title, Correa had an admirer from afar.
Alex Cora, the manager of the Red Sox, was the Astros bank coach during the infamous 2017 season and led Boston for the next season. He lost his job with the Red Sox and was banned for the 2020 season for his role in the Astros fraud scandal, but he was acquitted by the MLB in 2018 of any wrongdoing in a Boston lesser sign theft program. He was from the Red. reinstated Sox ahead of the 2021 season and stays in touch with Correa.
“He has become one of the best players in the big leagues and is still young,” said Cora, a compatriot from Puerto Rico. “He understands what it takes to compete at this level. He also understands the other part of the game and the numbers that really matter. You talk to him and it’s really eye opening and refreshing how he sees the game and how he talks about the game. I am very proud of him. I love this child. “
Joe Lemire contributed to the coverage.