By KRISTIE RIEKEN
HOUSTON (AP) — In a battle of the bullpens, Carlos Correa felt the greatest relief.
Injured down the stretch and slumping this month, Correa hit a leadoff home run in the 11th inning that lifted the Houston Astros over the New York Yankees 3-2 Sunday night, tying the AL Championship Series at one game apiece.
Correa, who earlier lined an RBI double and made a sensational play at shortstop, connected for an opposite-field shot to right off J.A. Happ.
“Not playing a couple of weeks before the playoffs and then not producing for or my team offensively, obviously it’s tough, getting hurt and everything,” the All-Star said. “But it’s all worth it for moments like this, moments like this where you give your team a chance to win every day, it’s worth it, man.”
Hours earlier, Correa was confident this would be the day he turned things around. About time, too, after starting out 3 for 22 in the postseason after returning from back problems.
“I’ve got my swing back,” he said then. “I’m going to hit a homer tonight.”
And with a swing that kept Houston from falling into an 0-2 hole, he did just that.
“Going into that last inning I thought: ‘I got this. I feel like I got this,’” Correa said. “And I had the right approach against him. I’ve been successful against him going the other way. And that’s what I try to do, I saw a good pitch down the middle and I drove the other way.”
Correa watched the ball sail, tossed his bat, put his hand to one ear to soak in the roars of the crowd and then held up one finger as he rounded the bases. As he approached home plate, he tossed his helmet as if shooting a basketball at the crowd of teammates waiting for him.
“As soon as I hit it I knew it was going to go over the fence,” he said. “The adrenaline started pumping like crazy. I don’t even know what I did. I’ve got to go watch the video. But I know I was so hyped.”
Correa’s big night gave him 27 RBIs in the postseason to pass Lance Berkman for the most in franchise history. And it was a familiar scene — in Game 2 of the 2017 ALCS against the Yankees, Correa hit a walk-off double in the ninth.
“You look at his RBI totals in the postseason, you look at his walk-offs, you look at the big moments, he’s a pretty special man,” manager AJ Hinch said.
Game 3 is Tuesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Gerrit Cole, who is 18-0 in his last 24 starts and led the majors in strikeouts, starts for the Astros against Luis Severino.
“The game of baseball, it’s a beautiful game,” Correa said.
The Yankees tied a League Championship Series record by using nine pitchers. The eight relievers had permitted only one run and two hits with 11 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings before Correa homered, ending a game that took 4 hours, 49 minutes and finished just before midnight.
Houston’s five relievers combined for 4 1/3 innings of one-hit shutout ball after taking over for Justin Verlander. Going into this best-of-seven series, the Yankees were considered the better team in the bullpen — the Astros amply held their own in this one.
“Our bullpen was nasty, gave us a chance to win the game,” Correa said.
Gary Sánchez struck out looking to end the Yankees 11th with runners on first and second. The pitch appeared outside — it came right after he swung and missed with two strikes, but was ruled a foul ball.
New York lost for the first time this postseason after four wins.
“It was a struggle tonight,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “They’re tough to score runs off, especially on a night when Verlander is out there.”
Aaron Judge put the Yankees on top 2-1 with a two-run shot off Verlander in the fourth. It was his first homer this postseason and the eighth in his playoff career.
George Springer tied it in the fifth with his franchise-record 12th career postseason home run. The 2017 World Series MVP homered on the first pitch after reliever Adam Ottavino entered.
“Just back and forth — the two best ballclubs in the game,” Judge said. “I wish we could have come away with two here, but now time to regroup and get ready for Tuesday.”
Along with his bat, Correa made the key play in the field to keep it tied at 2 in the sixth. With runners at first and second, and on the move on a full-count pitch with two outs, Brett Gardner hit a hard grounder that bounced off second baseman José Altuve for a single.
The ball bounded away and Correa quickly retrieved it and threw a strike to catcher Robinson Chirinos, who tagged out the sliding DJ LeMahieu.
Verlander pumped his fist and screamed “let’s go!” as he came off the field and Correa shook his finger with a look that said: “not on my watch.”
Cameras then panned to Verlander’s supermodel wife, Kate Upton, who jumped and cheered from a luxury suite.
“I just tried creeping over and as soon as the ball hit him, I scooped it and he sent him, so I had to gun him down,” Correa said.
Correa ended an 0-for-14 slump with an RBI double in the second off James Paxton, who lasted just 2 1/3 innings.
Hours later, Correa ended it with his drive off Happ. Correa is 6 for 12 with two homers against the lefty.
“It’s been a tough road this year but I’m finally here and I was able to contribute tonight,” he said.
Yankees: Slugger Giancarlo Stanton missed the game with a strained right quad. He homered in the opener. “So hoping that it’s something that with today and the off day, that he would be back in play for Game 3,” Boone said.
Cole was 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA and 25 strikeouts across 15 2/3 innings against the Rays in the ALDS. The 29-year-old led the AL with a career-best 2.50 ERA and was first in the majors with 326 strikeouts in the regular season.
This will be the eighth postseason start for Severino, who did not factor in the decision in New York’s Game 3 win over Minnesota. Severino, who made just three regular-season starts because of a late injury, allowed four hits in four innings against the Twins.