Enter Carlos Correa.
Next thing anyone knew, veteran left-hander J.A. Happ's first pitch was on its way over Minute Maid Park's right-field wall and the Astros had capped their Sunday with a 3-2 victory:
"I was looking for something down the middle that I could drive the other way, and he threw a perfect pitch to do it," Correa told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal on the field after the game.
Because the 25-year-old shortstop was able to put a perfect swing on his perfect pitch, he succeeded in saving the Astros from a potential 0-2 hole following their 7-0 loss in Game 1 on Saturday. The best-of-seven series is now tied at one game apiece ahead of Game 3 at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday.
For their part, the Yankees may be kicking themselves for letting this one get away.
The Bronx Bombers might have folded after James Paxton (who may have been tipping his pitches) was lifted by manager Aaron Boone after recording only five outs. But Aaron Judge came through with a two-run home run off Justin Verlander in the fourth inning, and Yankees relievers did a fine job of keeping Astros hitters on their heels.
Adam Ottavino got only one out and gave up a pair of hits, including a game-tying solo homer by George Springer. But Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman shepherded the game to extras with 6.1 combined hitless, scoreless innings. CC Sabathia and Happ at least got the Yankees through the 10th.
It looked for a moment in the top of the 11th like the Yankees offense was going to make it all worthwhile. Slugging catcher Gary Sanchez came up with two on and two out and worked a tough at-bat against right-hander Josh James, and he even got a break on a "foul tip" that was clearly a swing-and-miss.
On the very next pitch, though, home-plate umpire Cory Blaser rung Sanchez up on a questionable strike three that seemed an awful lot like a makeup call.
That set the stage for Correa, whose blast finally rearranged a win expectancy chart that had been shockingly even since Springer's homer in the fifth:
The Astros must be thrilled that, of all people, it was Correa who was front and center in their first win of the series.
Because of a bad back, the Puerto Rican played in only three games between Aug. 20 and the end of the regular season (Sept. 29). He also went into Game 2 of the ALCS in a slump, with zero hits in Houston's last four games.
However, if his performance Sunday is any indication, Correa may suddenly be feeling more like his usual self. As in, like a guy who's been a Rookie of the Year and an All-Star, and who put up a .926 OPS and 21 homers in the 75 games he was healthy this season.
Or as Astros manager A.J. Hinch put it, according to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle:
At least in theory, the Yankees should be content with having split the first two games of the ALCS in Houston. That's an acceptable outcome against a team that collected a league-high 60 of its 107 total wins (which also led Major League Baseball) in the regular season.
Still, the Yankees would obviously prefer to have the 2-0 lead that was within their reach. And while Boone's parade of relievers was generally a success in Game 2, it might not bode well for the rest of the series that Astros hitters have already gotten good looks at the Yankees' best firemen.
In particular, this familiarity figures to come into play in Game 3. Even if Luis Severino pitches well early, he's only built up enough strength following his nearly season-long shoulder injury to go roughly four innings. Boone will need his bullpen to pick up the slack again.
This time, it will have to do so opposite Gerrit Cole. The flamethrowing righty pitched to a 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts in the regular season, and he's been carrying right along with 25 strikeouts and only one run allowed through his first two starts of October.
Still another complication for the Yankees arose earlier Sunday. Giancarlo Stanton, who had homered in Game 1 on Saturday, has a quad strain that might keep him out for the rest of the series.
In light of all this, the Yankees' inability to steal a win in Game 2 only looks like a bigger missed opportunity. Come Game 3, the pressure will be on them to ambush Cole and take momentum back from Houston.
If the Astros ultimately keep it, a trip to a second World Series in three years may be as good as theirs.