By Yirsandy Rodríguez
Carlos Correa was prepared.
On a 0-2 count, he had only received a mighty 97 mph fastball thrown by Chicago White Sox southpaw Carlos Rodon.
After a first meeting where Rodón ended up giving up a slider and Correa singled to left, the situation was different. The hit came in the second inning with the bases clean. But after two outs and the bases loaded in the third inning, the Rodón vs. Correa showdown got all the attention at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Rodon stepped forward and scored two strikes, both roaming his four-seam fastball around the zone at 96-97 mph. Of course, something obvious was happening: Correa, as usual, read the game while Rodón, deserving, remained euphoric, like a fire-breathing dragon.
My question was, a few seconds later, where did pitch number three go to Correa that inning and Rodon’s 30th in the inning? Who were responsible? Was it a strategic plan promoted by pitching coach Ethan Katz? From Tony La Russa? From the catcher Yasmani Grandal? Of Rodón and Grandal together?
Nobody revealed it. So, we only know what happened when Correa was at 0-2 and Rodón released his third pitch: He never made it to Grandal’s mascot. It was never a fault swing for Correa. It wasn’t a foul, obviously. It was not a ball driven to some point on the field where a glove could have eaten it.
It was, as StatCast radars have often characterized, a Correa line rocket that opened the doors of home plate to two runners. Rodón insisted with the fastball. That? Yes, for the third time in a row. And Correa, after pinching her and just heading slowly on the next pitch, was ready to hit.
The swing was crushing. Demolition Man. A pair of hands that lashed out like a laser and deposited the ball 99 mph deep into the leftfield. José Altuve scored from third base, Alex Bregman from second and, except for Eloy Jiménez’s quick cut on left, Yordan Álvarez had scored.
So, in the end, Rodón had to go. Thirty pitches were too many to try to get the necessary third out of the inning, but repeating the fastball (97 mph) against Correa was a daring that the Rodón-Grandal duo paid dearly.
The Astros took a quick advantage in the score, 2-1, and did not lose it all afternoon until they won Game 4 of this ALDS 10-1 and eliminated the Chicago White Sox.
The Astros’ lead was impressive, but it all started from a turning point, and once again it was Carlos Correa who lit the spark.
“I thought his fastball was really good,” Carlos Correa told MLB after Game 4. “Just watching the game, I noticed that he (Rodón) was striking out everyone with a fastball, and you see him hitting his chest and Screaming. And I said, I’m 0-2 and I have the bases loaded. He wants to strike me out so he can hit himself again and scream. And I said I wasn’t going to let a fastball go past me. If I had thrown a slider, I probably would have landed on the plate, but I was 100% engaged with the fastball and on top of it, and he threw it, and I was able to hit as expected. “
Once again, Correa responded in a clutch situation, showing that he has been one of the most important hitters historically in Houston’s lineup. His playoff numbers reveal it all: He has produced .276 / .350 / .531 offensive line, with 17 homers and 54 RBIs.
The double was Correa’s 31st extra base in postseason series, and it also cemented the star Puerto Rican shortstop as the franchise’s all-time RBI leader with 54 RBIs.
Tony La Russa did not wait for Rodón’s showdown against AL batting leader Yuli Gurriel. He replaced Rodón, who left with 30 pitches in that third inning, after accumulating 26 between the first and second. Michael Kopech took over the mound, opening up a bullpen job that couldn’t stop the Astros in Game 4: In 6 3/4 innings, they allowed seven earned runs and 11 hits.
“We didn’t watch the video when he was pitching 90, 91 because we knew he wasn’t going to go into 90, 91 in Game 4,” Correa said of the perspective and plan the hitters came up with to attack Rodon. “It was too big of a game for Tony, and he wasn’t going to make the decision to put it there if he was only throwing around 90-91 mph. If not, he would have gone with Lance Lynn, so we knew that Rodon’s speed would be a key factor. I feel like we did a great job of getting him out of the game early, putting together great at-bats as a team, and I think that was the key to the game.
Five out of Five!
After the convincing 10-1 success, the Astros now accumulate five consecutive rankings to the discussion of the American League title:
2017 — Astros vs. New York Yankees in seven games
2018 — The Red Sox won in five games.
2019 — Astros vs. New York Yankees in six games
2020 — Tampa Bay Rays won in seven games
2021 — Red Sox or Astros?
“It’s really special,” Correa said of the prospect of facing the Red Sox again, and erasing bad memories of a quick elimination after just five battles in 2018.
“I will never take these moments for granted, and I will enjoy it with my teammates as much as I can. This is a special team, special organization.
I’m proud of what the front office has been able to do with the Houston Astros. ”
(Photo: Houston Astros)