Carlos Correa paused a few seconds at the plate and tapped the spot on his wrist where a watch would be.
“It’s my time!” the Houston Astros star screamed.
That it is.
And if his time with the Astros runs out at the end of this season, the star shortstop sure is making this an October to remember.
Correa hit a tiebreaking home run in the seventh inning, hollering toward his dugout before beginning his trot around the bases and propelling the Astros over the Boston Red Sox 5-4 Friday night in the AL Championship Series opener.
“When the playoffs start, (my teammates) always tell me: `It’s your time. Now to go out there, hit homers,”' Correa said. “They told me to hit the watch when I hit the homer.”
Correa teamed with Jose Altuve to do just enough to overcome the heroics of Kike Hernandez, who starred with his bat and glove for the wild-card Red Sox.
“I’ve been watching them for years, and it’s a pleasure to be watching them up close and personal,” manager Dusty Baker said. “And, boy, they are some clutch guys.”
Altuve tied the game with a two-run shot in the sixth before Correa connected off losing pitcher Hansel Robles with two outs in the seventh to put the Astros ahead 4-3.
Correa, who has been with the Astros since being selected first overall in 2012, becomes a free agent at season’s end and it seems likely that he won’t remain in Houston.
Correa has a history of big hits for Houston that includes 18 post-season home runs, several of them in key, late situations.
“Playoff time, baby,” Correa said.
“We want to be in the spotlight,” he said. “We want to be in the moment.”
He had three hits, and his performance gave him 55 post-season RBIs, passing Albert Pujols for the most among active MLB players.
Hernandez, who won a World Series with the Dodgers last year, homered twice among his four hits and likely saved multiple runs with two terrific catches.
His second homer came off closer Ryan Pressly to start the ninth and cut the lead to 5-4. But Pressly retired the next three batters to get the save.
“It would have been a lot cooler if we won the game,” Hernandez said.
Game 2 is Saturday in Houston.
Ahead 4-3, the Astros loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth when Hirokazu Sawamura plunked Martin Maldonado. Houston added some insurance when Yuli Gurriel slid in just before the tag to score on a sacrifice fly by Altuve that made it 5-3, beating a terrific throw by Hernandez.
Hernandez has been red hot for the Red Sox this October, with 13 hits in his last four games to set an MLB record for most hits in a four-game span in one post-season. He passed Billy Hatcher (1999), Marquis Grissom (1995), Hideki Matsui (2004) and Randy Arozarena (2020), who all had 11.
“Enrique is en fuego,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said.
Chas McCormick singled with one out in the sixth before Altuve became the fourth player in MLB history to hit at least 20 post-season homers with his shot to left-centre off Tanner Houck that tied it at 3.
Hernandez opened a three-run third with his soaring homer to centre field to tie it at 1-all.
Xander Bogaerts walked with one out and Rafael Devers singled. J.D. Martinez hit a grounder to Altuve for what should have been a routine play. But the ball grazed the second baseman’s glove and rolled between his legs for an error that allowed Martinez to reach and Bogaerts to score to put Boston up 2-1.
Hunter Renfroe then hit an RBI double to left field to extend it to 3-1 before Houston’s two brightest stars came through late.
“Experience matters,” Correa said.
Altuve and Correa, connecting again for a team trying to reach the World Series for the second time in three years. The Astros also won the championship in 2017, a crown tainted by the team’s sign-stealing scandal.
Both teams leaned heavily on their bullpens after both Boston starter Chris Sale and Houston’s Framber Valdez were chased in the third.
Ryne Stanek got the last out of the seventh for the win.
Sale, who was tagged for five runs in one inning in his previous start against Tampa Bay in the AL Division Series, permitted five hits and a run in 2 2/3 innings Friday. Valdez gave up six hits and three runs – two earned – while also getting just eight outs.
“Everything as a whole clicked a little bit better tonight. My command was spotty at times, but when I really needed it, I could bear down and grab what I’ve been looking for,” Sale said.
The Astros led 1-0 after Altuve scored on a sacrifice fly by Yordan Alvarez in the first.
For the next few innings it looked like it wouldn’t be the Astros’ night.
Houston loaded the bases with one out in the second, but Altuve struck out before Sale escaped the jam with a huge assist from Hernandez in centre field. Hernandez, whose MLB debut came when he subbed for Altuve late in a game in 2014, sprinted to rob Michael Brantley with a diving catch in shallow centre to end the inning.
The Astros had runners at first and second with two outs in the fifth when Hernandez struck again. He made a backhanded grab in right-centre on a ball hit by Kyle Tucker to leave them empty-handed once more.
Hernandez even seemed surprised he made the grab, contorting his face into a shocked look after the ball hit his glove.
Hernandez said the fly flew like a knuckleball.
“Tim Wakefield, R.A. Dickey, they’ve got nothing on that ball,” he said.
Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 2.61 ERA) will have a homecoming of sorts Saturday when he starts opposite rookie Luis Garcia (0-0, 16.88). Eovaldi grew up in the Houston suburb of Alvin, also home to Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, and visited the Astrodome and Minute Maid Park often growing up.
“It’s definitely one of my favourite ballparks to pitch in,” Eovaldi said.
Saturday will be his third start this post-season. He struck out eight in 5 1/3 innings and got the win in the wild-card victory over the Yankees. He also started Game 3 of the ALDS but did not factor in the decision in a 6-4 Red Sox win.
Garcia struggled in a Game 3 start in the division series, permitting five runs in just 2 2/3 innings of a 12-6 loss.