Correa and the Astros Emerge Triumphant in 11 Inning Thriller

It’s amazing how quickly a baseball game that has gone on for four hours and forty-nine minutes can end. On the first pitch of the bottom of the 11th inning — before the broadcast had even gotten a chance to fully cut away from its commercial break housekeeping — Carlos Correa ended Sunday night’s epic affair with a single swing.

It was a no-doubter right off the bat, and as Correa watched it fly, he pulled off one of the best postseason home-run celebrations we’ve yet seen. He walked down the line, bat parallel to the ground in his hand, before casting it aside; he cocked a hand to his ear, waiting for the cheers, daring any disapproval. Then, taking off down the bases, he pointed a finger upward, to all the fans leaping from their seats, before shooting his batting helmet into the waiting arms of his teammates, gathered around home plate to greet him.

One has to go on quite a journey to reach a point of such inspired triumph, and Game 2 certainly provided such a journey. Far from the one-sidedness of Game 1, Game 2 saw the Yankees and the Astros exchanging narrow leads before spending five innings knotted in a 2-2 tie. While the Yankees’ bats and the individual performance of Masahiro Tanaka shared the spotlight in Game 1, it was pitching on both sides that took center stage for most of Game 2 — though the two teams constructed their dominant performances in rather different ways.

In the early going, the game looked like it could easily get out of hand for the Yankees. Starter James Paxton walked George Springer to lead off the bottom of the first, which, unfortunately for him, turned out to be a harbinger of command issues to come. Paxton never seemed comfortable; there was some speculation that he was tipping pitches, or that the Astros were stealing signs. Whatever the cause, it didn’t take long for the Astros to jump on him. A single from Alex Bregman, a walk from Yordan Alvarez, and a double from Correa in the bottom of the second gave the Astros an early 1-0 lead. After Michael Brantley and José Altuve reached on back-to-back singles with one out in the bottom of the third, Aaron Boone went to his bullpen. Any hope of length out of Paxton was dashed early.

And then there was the matter of Justin Verlander: While not the utterly overpowering version of himself that we saw in Game 1 of the ALDS, he was nonetheless effective. The lineup that had made such a thunderous announcement of its power the night before was largely quieted, despite getting some hard contact off Verlander. Though he allowed five hits and two walks over his six and two-thirds innings, only two of those baserunners crossed home plate, courtesy of this barrel off the bat of Aaron Judge in the top of the fourth.

Those two runs, though, gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. After Paxton’s early exit, Chad Green shut down the Astros hitters for an inning and two-thirds of quick, effective work. When the bottom of the fifth came around, though, it was not Green who came out to face George Springer, but Adam Ottavino. The first pitch out of Ottavino’s hand was a hanging slider. Springer wasted no time in sending it over the fence.

Some questioned the decision to pull Green when he was clearly rolling. Perhaps things would have turned out differently for the Yankees if he had been left in. But the decision made sense: With a fully-loaded bullpen and an off-day tomorrow, it was completely within the realm of expectation for Boone to use every tool at his disposal, and the matchup of Green against Springer was less than favorable.

It was one poorly-executed pitch from Ottavino that swung the decision in the Astros’ favor, and in a game this evenly matched, one poorly-executed pitch was enough to make the critical difference. New York did have opportunities to score against Houston. Twice after the Judge two-run homer, the Yankees had runners on first and second with two out; twice, they failed to make anything happen.

The most dramatic of these missed opportunities came in the top of the sixth. The inning began with a DJ LeMahieu single off a Verlander curveball. Two pitches later, Aaron Judge lined out with dangerous conviction; three pitches after that, the ubiquitous Gleyber Torres snuck a ball into left field off the glove of Alex Bregman. Edwin Encarnación, who has had a wretched time of it in the first two games of this series, flew out to right for the second out, bringing up Brett Gardner.

Verlander fell behind Gardner 2-0, but worked his way back to a full count before Gardner shot a grounder into the right side of the infield. And for a moment, it looked like the Yankees would take the lead: The ball caromed off José Altuve, slipping out into the middle of nowhere on the infield dirt. As soon as the ball took that bounce, Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin waved LeMahieu home.

But Nevin didn’t account for Correa, coming up behind Altuve to save the day. Bare-handed, he picked up the errant ball and fired an 87 mph strike home. LeMahieu wasn’t even close, and the inning was over with the game still tied.

The Yankees’ succession of high-powered bullpen arms — Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman — held the Astros scoreless through the ninth, bending but not breaking. The Yankees themselves wouldn’t get another significant scoring opportunity until the top of the 11th, when Encarnación drew a two-out walk against Joe Smith, followed by a Brett Gardner single off Ryan Pressly. A.J. Hinch called on Josh James, who pitched a scoreless inning and a third in Game 1, to face Gary Sánchez.

After quickly falling behind 0-2, fouling off three straight fastballs from James, Sánchez took a 99 mph fastball outside. He then proceeded to foul off pitch after pitch — until, on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, he swung completely over a slider in the dirt. The inning was over.

Except for the fact that it wasn’t. Home plate umpire Cory Blaser called that pitch foul, a call that isn’t reviewable. And so, despite Hinch’s protests, the at-bat went on. James threw a pitch well outside — ball three. Except it wasn’t! Blaser, perhaps atoning for the sin of goofing up the foul ball call on the previous pitch, gave James back the strike that he’d taken away. Sánchez was outraged, but there was nothing he could do. He was the last Yankee batter to come to the plate in Game 2: a frustrating end to a frustrating night for the Yankees hitters.

In the end, it was the back end of the bullpen that gave out for New York. One imagines Boone would have liked for Chapman to pitch the ninth and 10th, but a high-stress frame to send it to extras put Chapman out of commission. CC Sabathia, who can now add LOOGY to his lengthy list of accomplishments, fulfilled his duty in recording the first out of the 10th. Jonathan Loaisiga was less successful, walking the next two batters. When J.A. Happ took over, the writing was on the wall. Carlos Correa simply added an exclamation point.

There are a lot of ways in which this game was exemplary of the kind of 2019 baseball that makes some people rend their garments. The Yankees used nine relievers, and the Astros five; the Astros struck out 14 times, the Yankees 12; four of the game’s five runs were scored via the home run, and the whole affair took almost five hours.

And yet — it was a thoroughly great game of baseball. Right down to the last pitch, there was a sense that we were witnessing the meeting of two teams so equally measured in their greatness that there was no other option than for the game to be as close as it was, and to end the way that it did. This was the series that was promised. Now, it heads to New York, tied at a game apiece.

We hoped you liked reading Correa and the Astros Emerge Triumphant in 11 Inning Thriller by Rachael McDaniel!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Rachael is the current managing editor of The Hardball Times and dilettante-in-residence at FanGraphs. Previous work can be found at Baseball Prospectus, VICE Sports, and The Hardball Times.

newest oldest most voted
dl80
Member
Member
dl80

That foul ball call was terrible. He missed it by 3 inches. Why isn’t that reviewable? Is it because calling it foul made it a dead ball and Sanchez might have otherwise run? Why not err on the side of not calling those a foul and reviewing it after?

Joe Joe
Member
Member
Joe Joe

My guess is that the call on field drastically affects the rest of the play. As you mention, is Sanchez out because he doesn’t run if call is overturned? Pitcher loses strikeout in this situation. However, if it was less than 2 strikes, with a runner on third, batting team would lose a run. MLB is in a bad situation when ump makes a mistake on a foul ball/passed ball situation, and there really isn’t a great solution.

Captain Tenneal
Member
Captain Tenneal

I think the solution is to not give the hitter the benefit of the doubt when he swings at a pitch that misses the strike zone by 3 feet.

dl80
Member
Member
dl80

There are no perfect solutions, but the best option is, in my opinion, to have robot umps calling balls and strikes so that the human umps can focus solely on things like foul balls, hit by pitch, etc.

D-Wiz
Member
Member
D-Wiz

Definitely a case where the make-up call saved everyone’s bacon, even if Sanchez wasn’t happy about it.

EonADS
Member
EonADS

Baseball: where two wrongs sometimes make a right.

Webs
Member
Member
Webs

And yet, umpiring 101 says you do not alter your calls to make up for your mistakes.

So this may have been two terrible calls in a row.

Charles Balter
Member
Member
Charles Balter

It was two terrible calls in a row. The ball missed Sanchez’ bat by five inches. The next pitch missed the strike zone by five inches.

Charles Balter
Member
Member
Charles Balter

I hate watching a game where everyone in the country can see the call was wrong… except the umpire(s).

And I’m a Yankees fan. Some calls are close. Some calls, you really can’t tell.

That call last night was terrible. I see how the ump missed it. It hit something – the dirt, the plate, a shinguard. It sounded like a foul ball. But it wasn’t even close.