Astros vs. Yankees: Carlos Correa's flawless run-saving defensive play makes his walk-off homer possible

On Sunday night, the Houston Astros evened up their ALCS matchup against the New York Yankees in Game 2. The Houston win was largely thanks to shortstop Carlos Correa, who hit a walk-off homer in the 11th inning off lefty J.A. Happ. But the game might not have reached extra innings if it wasn't for a heads-up play Correa made in the sixth inning.

Let's set the scene. With runners on first and second and two outs in the top of the sixth, Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner hit a low line drive at Astros second baseman Jose Altuve. Altuve was unable to make the grab, and instead the ball deflected off him toward the bag. DJ LeMahieu, who took off from second on contact, rounded third and headed home -- only for Correa to come out of nowhere and make a splendid grab and throw to the plate, with the ball getting to catcher Robinson Chirinos in more than enough time to apply the tag:

LeMahieu looks like a fool here -- or, at minimum, like someone who overestimated his own speed. But it's important to keep a few things in mind, beginning with the fact that Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin was waving him around. Why? Because Correa was a ways away from the ball as LeMahieu approached third. Take a look at this still:

LeMahieu is by no means fast -- he ranked in the 47th percentile in sprint speed during the regular season, according to Statcast -- but let's not overlook the degree of difficulty thrust upon Correa. Within, oh, about four or five seconds he had to: 1) react to the deflection; 2) process that LeMahieu was heading home (presumably a teammate yelled as much); 3) reach the ball and round it in a way that allowed him to get off a quicker throw than if he picked it up and then did a spin move; and 4) make a strong, accurate throw home. 

Again, Correa had to do all that within four or five seconds. And he nailed it. 

If Correa had approached the ball the wrong way, or had slipped, or had hesitated, or had overrun it, or if his throw home had bounced or sailed or sliced or cut it would've been understandable -- even the best in the world sometimes misplay the ball or grip the seams in a suboptimal way. There are a lot of ways that play could have gone wrong that would've allowed LeMahieu to sneak across the plate without issue. Correa, then, made what amounted to the perfect play -- to the extent that LeMahieu walked away looking silly for attempting to run on anything but a routine play.

Baseball is an orderly game with clean, symmetrical lines: there's three outs per inning, nine innings per contest, and so on. There's beauty in that structure. But sometimes the real beauty lies in the short spurts of chaos borne from the run of play. Correa proved as much on Sunday night.

Correa wasn't done with that play, either. In the 11th inning, he led off against Happ with a solo home run to give the Astros the win. Take a look:

Game 2 has to be particularly sweet for Correa, who also had an RBI double, for reasons obvious and not.  An achy back limited him to just three games in September, and he'd gotten off to a slow start in the playoffs. He entered Sunday with three hits, zero walks, and 10 strikeouts in his first 22 at-bats this postseason. Whether this is the start of a Correa tear is to be seen, but it almost doesn't matter -- the Astros don't win Game 2 without him, no matter what comes next.

CBS Sports Staff

R.J. Anderson joined CBS Sports in 2016. He previously wrote for Baseball Prospectus, where he contributed to five of the New York Times bestselling annuals. His work has also appeared in Newsweek and... Full Bio

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