Astros Haters Beware: Epic Comeback in Play as Carlos Correa Backs Up Trash-Talk

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistOctober 16, 2020

CORRECTS TO THURSDAY, OCT. 15, 2020, NOT TUESDAY, DEC. 15, 2020 - Players celebrate Houston Astros Carlos Correa's walk off home run during the ninth inning in Game 5 of a baseball American League Championship Series, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in San Diego. The Astros defeated the Rays 4-3 and the Rays lead the series 3-2 games. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Ashley Landis/Associated Press

SAN DIEGO – You bet it was "Break Glass in Case of Emergency" time. Facing elimination for a second day in a row but still standing, Houston Astros cool-cat manager Dusty Baker invoked Mighty Mouse and blues greats Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf before Game 5.

Good thing for Dusty, he was able to finish the day talking about his own maestro, Carlos Correa.

Which could only mean one thing: Following one of the most riveting games of this postseason, after Correa absolutely slaughtered a 96 mph fastball from Rays closer Nick Anderson to walk it off 4-3 for Houston, it is Tampa Bay and the nation's Astros-haters who were left singing the blues.

Don't look now, but if the Rays don't figure out a way to close this thing out Friday in Game 6, the Astros, who entered this year's expanded postseason tournament with an embarrassing 29-31 record, might figure out an alternate path to another World Series.

"We're pretty happy in [the clubhouse] right now, but we're not finished," closer Ryan Pressly promised.

Just ask Correa, the heart and soul of this proud Astros team. In a 3-3 game with one out in the bottom of the ninth, he looked at Baker before walking up to bat and uttered one word: "Walk-off."

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After Correa watched an 84 mph curve sail high for ball one and then swung through a second curve for strike one, he launched a fastball deep into the twilight to empty the Astros dugout and begin a wild, life-affirming celebration.

As his teammates gathered en masse awaiting him, Correa pulled up about 15 feet short of home plate as if to shoot a jumper on the hoops court. Instead of a basketball, he shot his batting helmet into them.

Then he crossed the plate and, in the mob, he and Baker found each other for a long and emotional embrace.

What did Correa tell Dusty?

"To be honest … 'I f--ing told you!'" Correa said afterward, almost bashfully. "That's the exact words I used. I told him before going out that I was going to end it."

Gregory Bull/Associated Press

Yeah. Don't look now, but of 38 teams that previously have fallen behind three games-to-none in a best-of-seven series, the Astros—thanks to Correa's walkoff home run after he told Baker in the dugout exactly what he would do—now have become the fourth team to live to force a Game 6. The only previous teams to do it: the 2004 Red Sox, 1999 Mets and 1998 Braves.

And in case you think the Astros are blindly forging ahead, think again. This remains a proud, experienced, determined and driven team, to the point where Alex Bregman called Correa aside at the team hotel after Tuesday night's win to show him part of a documentary on those '04 Red Sox that erased the 0-3 deficit to storm back and stun the New York Yankees in that year's ALCS.

"I was sitting down watching it with him," Correa said. "Super inspiring video."

Seeds have been planted.

Gregory Bull/Associated Press

"We won two games now, but we still have a long way to go," Correa said. "We've gotta come out tomorrow and take that game. That's a great team on the other side, they're playing great baseball, their pitching staff is unbelievable. But we've gotta find ways to win tomorrow."

These Astros, playoff-seasoned and October-tough, have that look and are getting that feeling again.

In fact, Baker in the dugout already was beseeching higher powers. What did the manager do after Correa called "walkoff" before departing for his classic plate appearance?

"I said a prayer to my dad and my brother and said, 'Please, Lord, let us walk off because if we don't, then I have to use Framber [Valdez, Houston's Game 6 starter] and we can't use him tomorrow.'

"Things couldn't have worked out any better. Framber was warming up and then we were down to [Cy] Sneed, then that might have been it and you have nightmares of going 15 innings or something."

Thanks to Correa, there would be no nightmares.

"Boy, that was as big a game as I've ever been involved in," Baker said. "That was one of the reasons I came back, you know, it's like you birdie the hole on the golf course, you've had a bad day and so you keep coming back to play.

"Man, that was sweet. That was as sweet as it gets right there."

Through the lingering outside animosity still stacked up like cordwood from their cheating scandal, the Astros continue to work hard to retain their sweetness on the inside. For one thing, they've loved on second baseman Jose Altuve as much as they've been able to as he's battled a very public and humiliating case of the yips in this ALCS. Even Thursday, while making what will look like three routine 4-3 plays in the scorebook, the last of those, the third out in the seventh inning on a ground ball by Yandy Diaz, came only after he bounced the throw to first and Yuli Gurriel picked it to do him a solid.

After the three throwing errors in this series, Baker told Altuve that the little second baseman reminds the manager of his dear friend, the Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, who passed away last week.

"These guys are like twin Mighty Mouses," Baker said, before asking his questioner, "You know who Mighty Mouse is?"

No, the answer came back.

"I didn't think so," Baker said, chuckling. "OK, look up Mighty Mouse. Mighty Mouse was a bad little dude, man. Super strength. He didn't let size hold him down."

Then Baker continued, talking about how "size doesn't show how much heart you have, how much intellect you have for the game and how much love you have for the game."

Altuve is filled with all of those things, Baker said, and as the Astros have rallied around him, maybe they've recaptured a little bit of what they're about, too. Bad little dudes, bad big dudes, bad in all shapes and sizes.

Leadoff man George Springer crushed the game's first pitch over the left-field fence to spot the Astros a 1-0 lead.

Said Correa: "I told George yesterday before the game, 'When you go, we go. We don't win a World Series without you. We don't win series' without you. When you're on, this team has a great chance to win ballgames. He's the guy we look to."

When Correa's walk-off bookended it, it was the first time in MLB history that both the first and last pitches of a postseason game went for home runs.

In between, Baker and pitching coach Brent Strom expertly maneuvered five rookie pitchers through the first 6.2 innings before veterans Josh James (who left after 16 pitches with a back injury) and Pressly finished it.

"It's not time to go home yet," Astros designated hitter Michael Brantley said.

"We all want to go to Dallas," and not Houston, Baker said, referring to the start of the World Series next week, which will be played in its entirety at the neutral field of the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas.

If the Rays are going to close these guys out, the suggestion here is that they'd better do it soon.

The more Correa backs up his trash talk (remember, after the Astros swept Minnesota, he addressed Houston's critics with, "What are they gonna say now?"), the more swag the late-starting Astros are gaining.

Correa now has more homers in the postseason (six) than he had in the regular 60-game season (five). And his three walk-off postseason homers ties Red Sox legend David Ortiz for the most all-time.

Baker said he spent time firing himself up for Game 5 listening to Muddy Waters singing, "I'm ready, ready as anybody can be", which pretty much fits his team as well.

And that the Astros had last licks on a day in which they were running out of pitching was just one more moment that kept them in their groove.

"That will go down as one of the greatest games in history," Baker said. "And hopefully, it'll go down as one of the greatest comebacks in history after two more games."

      

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.