ALCS Game 1: Achy back and all, Carlos Correa comes through big for Astros vs. Red Sox

BOSTON -- If you've watched Astros shortstop Carlos Correa play at any point over the last nine weeks or so, you know he isn't 100 percent healthy. Correa missed six weeks with lower back soreness, and, after returning on August 10, he hit .180/.261/.256 in the final 37 games of the regular season. He looked every bit as bad at the plate as the numbers suggest.

"It's just a pain down in my lower back that doesn't let me move right," Correa said to the Associated Press earlier this week, confirming he is still not fully recovered from his back trouble. "When I bend over, when I rotate. Sometimes when I wake up and I walk in the morning, I know it's not going to be a good day."

Correa went 1 for 10 in the three-game sweep of the Indians in the ALDS -- the one was an opposite field three-run home run in his final at-bat of the series -- and, because he's struggled so much lately, manager A.J. Hinch has bumped him down into the No. 7 spot in the lineup. Correa hasn't complained. It just goes to show how difficult things have been recently.

In ALCS Game 1 on Saturday night, it was impossible to tell Correa's back has been bothering him. He displayed the all-around excellence that makes him a perennial MVP pick. His evening started with a nifty turn on Xander Bogaerts' inning-ending 6-4-3 double play in the first inning. Just like that, a Red Sox first inning rally was snuffed out.

Then, in his first at-bat of the game, Correa worked a seven-pitch two-out walk to put the wheels in motion for the Astros to score their first two runs of the ball game. Chris Sale got two quick outs, then Correa drew the walk and things snowballed. Correa eventually came around to score on George Springer's two-run single.

Correa's most impactful play came in the sixth inning. Justin Verlander lost the plate a bit in the bottom of the fifth and the Red Sox pushed across two runs to tie the game 2-2. A hit-by-pitch and an error put the Astros in business in the next half-inning, then two outs put the rally on life support. That's when Correa dunked the go-ahead single to center that gave the Astros the lead for good.

Statcast had Joe Kelly's 3-1 fastball at 100 mph on the nose. Correa, bad back and all, beat Kelly to the spot and muscled the single to center. That is only the second base hit of Correa's career against a triple-digit fastball and his first since 2015. You're not going to find a better example of a great player finding a way to come through, even when injured, than that hit.

"It felt really good," Correa said following Game 1. "I've been feeling great since the series in Cleveland. My back is in the best state it's been since I came back from the DL. I'm very positive when I'm standing on the field. Right now I'm feeling really good. I'm hoping for a really good series. That hit was huge. Stopped their momentum, obviously ... It was huge, but most importantly it gives me a lot of confidence, which is key."

Correa reached base three times in ALCS Game 1, going 1 for 3 with two walks, and he did also commit an error. He bobbled Eduardo Nunez's one-out ground ball in the seventh inning with Houston leading 3-2, though nothing came from the error. Everything he did at the plate and everything else he did in the field more than made up for that error.

"That was a good game for him," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said following Game 1. "Really good at-bat, which shouldn't go unnoticed is the two-out walk that setup -- three hitters later -- George got the two-out base hit ... That at-bat that Correa had was just as significant as any of them. Carlos has had huge at-bats. We talked about it. He had a little bit more results with a couple walks and the base hit with RBI with two outs."

The Astros are a terror even when Correa is a non-factor. The pitching staff is an endless supply of power arms and the lineup is loaded with high-contact hitters who drive pitchers nuts. Correa is one of those hitters, at least when healthy, which he hasn't been for a few weeks now. In Game 1 though, Correa was back to being an impact player, and he was instrumental in Houston taking a 1-0 series lead.

"It's been a tough year. But it's not the end of the world," said Correa earlier this week. "I keep grinding every single day. I keep trying to find ways to help my team. I thought my defense this year was excellent and I'm looking forward to winning another championship and getting some rest."  

Correa and the Astros will look to take another game from the Red Sox on Sunday in Boston. First pitch is 7:09 p.m. ET, and you can stream the game on fuboTV (Try for free). 

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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