HOUSTON – It’s CARLOS CORREA’s time.
And the 2021 Astros are his team. The 27-year-old shortstop is on a mission to win another World Series as the leader of an often maligned Astros organization as the clock ticks to his free agency.
So don’t expect him to back down now that the Atlanta Braves struck first with a Game 1 win on Tuesday night. If you see Correa aiming for his wrist after a big hit in Game 2, as he did against the Boston Red Sox in the last round, which generated controversy in the American League Championship Series (SCLA), you will understand. why.
“When the playoffs start, [mis compañeros] They always tell me it’s your time, “Correa told ESPN during SCLA.” I love this time of year. When I point to my wrist, it’s not to disrespect anyone. I’m just saying it’s ‘my time’ of the year. “
He can back it up: In six postseason runs, Correa has hit 18 home runs and compiled an .868 OPS. But beyond the home runs and flashy celebrations, a new version of Correa has emerged: a team leader who will defend him publicly and call for him in private.
“You can sit there, in front of a group, and ask people, ‘Are you ready to go with me?’ because they know their answer is yes, “explained Kendall Graveman, who joined the Astros in a midseason trade from the Seattle Mariners. “That’s the vibe it gives off.”
With his Astros in the World Series for the third time in five years, Correa is more than ready for one more opportunity to show his leadership and skills on the field. And after seven years with the team, in what could be his last days wearing orange and blue, his stature in the clubhouse is clear.
“He’s super smart,” said his teammate Alex Bregman. “He works very hard. His only goal is to win. He has a plan, he executes his plan, and he helps other guys do the same. He is a leader.”
STANDING NEAR THE DUGOUT away from Fenway Park, as his team prepared for a pivotal SCLA Game 5 meeting with the Red Sox, Correa’s voice began to crack and his eyes began to light up as he explained what it meant to him to be in this role. for the Astros.
“In fact, it is difficult for me to talk about this,” he said. “It’s about how much I care about each individual in that clubhouse. I love each one of them. I treat them like family members and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my family.”
It has been a long way to get here. Correa started with the Astros as a 20-year-old rookie in 2015, one of the young upstarts on a team emerging from a long rebuilding. In just his second year on the team, Correa’s legacy with the Astros changed forever – with the signal theft scandal that rocked baseball when it was discovered two years later.
The situation cost former manager AJ Hinch and former general manager Jeff Luhnow his job. The players were never punished, but Correa and the other three Astros hitters who remain on the 2021 roster have felt the ire of the court of public opinion. Correa says the treatment he and his teammates have received has forced him to grow rapidly.
“With everything we’ve been through, I felt like I had to step up, make sure we’re closer together than ever,” Correa said. “Everything that has happened on the road has brought us closer.”
While some Astros players have avoided directly addressing criticism related to the scandal, Correa has leaned in to defend his teammates at every opportunity. When White Sox pitcher Ryan Tepera hinted that the Astros were still cheating at home earlier this postseason, the shortstop responded by reciting the MLB-leading .780 road OPS this season.
“I speak for facts,” Correa said. “Some people talk about emotions; I want to talk about facts and numbers. If you’re going to badmouth our team, make sure you have the right story.”
The Astros are regularly the subject of hostile chants throughout the league, but Correa sees his latest career as an opportunity to change the narrative. It’s the closest any Astro will publicly admit to being motivated to silencing critics by winning without a hint of scandal.
“That was the bad part of our story,” Correa said. “Now we have to be better and fix our story and end with a happy ending.”
SINCE 2017, CORREA he has remained one of the best shortstops in the league. And as he has matured as a player and as a leader in the Astros clubhouse, his impact has only grown.
For manager Dusty Baker, who has led other veteran clubhouse presences such as Derrek Lee and Max Scherzer, he doesn’t miss what it means to have a great player setting an example for his teammates.
“I learned that from Hank Aaron, that you want your best player to be your best leader,” Baker said. “Most of the time, it’s not. It makes it a lot easier for the manager because he has half a dozen or ten guys with him.
“If your best player is not a good leader, they can lead you down the wrong path. Carlos is in the great category.”
This year, that has been true on and off the field. Correa has set a personal record for home runs and WAR and is an All-Star for the first time since 2017. And while he has guided this team through its first season back on the road in front of fans who are still eager for 2020 revelations, he has been equally important in the clubhouse.
Graveman recalled several nights on the road where players would gather in catcher Martín Maldonado’s room to talk about that night’s game, with Correa often leading the conversation.
“He’ll break the game and talk to guys one on one,” Graveman said. “Just saying things like ‘we need you to win’ is important. When a leader says that, it’s special because you really believe it. I’ve seen it multiple times.”
THERE WAS A TIME in the American League Division Series (ALDS) in Chicago that Correa and his teammates say illustrates his leadership evolution in Houston.
In Game 4, as center fielder Jake Meyers lay in the warning zone after crashing into the field wall at Guaranteed Rate Field in an attempt to capture a home run by Gavin Sheets, Correa ran into the outfield.
That alone, running from the box to see an injured teammate, is not something Correa would have done a few years ago, he said.
But his actions after getting there were just as important. Meyers had hit his left shoulder, his throwing arm, during the sequence, but he wanted to stay in the game. As Baker jogged from the dugout – I would later say it was a “long haul” – it was Correa who took charge of the situation.
“I asked him how he was,” Correa recalled. “He said it was 50%. I told him 50% was not good enough for me.”
Meyers exited the game.
“The moment it happened, Carlos really looked like a veteran, captain-style, letting me understand that it’s not about me, it’s about the team,” Meyers said. “But I also know that he cares about me.”
Correa and his teammates acknowledge that his leadership on the field has been a work in progress in his seven years in the league.
“I’ve watched him grow,” Astros bench coach Joe Espada said. “It’s authentic. There’s empathy. There’s compassion. That’s what a leader is all about. But he does it with respect.”
AS THE YEARS GO ON, Correa is as good as it sounds. According to Baseball Reference, his WAR (7.2) led all position players. His .850 OPS is in line with the best shortstops in the game, and this was his best defensive season yet. His game sells itself, and Correa, a free agent for the first time in 2021, is ready to take advantage.
“Any team that wants to win, I want to be part of it,” Correa said. “I want to be part of an organization that wants to go in the right direction and rebuild in the right way and win championships.”
While the New York Yankees and Mariners remain among the teams associated with Correa’s signing, an unsolicited mention of the word “rebuild” should have fans in Detroit and Chicago, among other cities, salivating. The Detroit Tigers employ former Astros manager AJ Hinch, while the Chicago Cubs are currently starless, and Correa recently recalled how much pre-draft training at Wrigley Field meant to him.
Correa has become more fluent in the sabermetric world and has made it clear that he will use that information to analyze his potential suitors in the same way that interested teams will be evaluating him.
“I see a lot of teams that have a lot of talent, but they don’t have information,” Correa said. “That’s what I’m going to bring. The tests tell you a lot, but at the same time you need guys who have done it to help you learn the correct forms. I’ll take it to another team.”
“I go to websites and start looking at numbers and comparing. I enjoy it in my spare time,” he continued with a smile. “Some people like Tik Tok, I look at the numbers.”
The Astros tried to sign Correa on an offseason extension, offering him a six-year, $ 120 million deal, but they came up short. And it will probably take a lot more to sign him now. Just a year after Houston let George Springer out, the team could see the same thing happen to another All-Star in 2021.ñ
“We’re going to work with Correa after this is over,” Astros owner Jim Crane said during the Houston postseason.
For now, Correa said, he has other things on his mind.
“When the offseason comes around, I’ll think about all those other things, but right now, the main focus is helping this team win a championship,” he said. “That’s all I think about.”
He ended a long conversation about his organization, his adopted city, and especially his teammates, who he may be saying goodbye to in no time, with a message.
“My love for all of them will never end,” Correa said.