HOUSTON (AP) – José Altuve got straight to the point when asked what Carlos Correa means to the Houston Astros after his powerful swing sent them to the playoffs Thursday night.
“We are where we are because of him,” the star second baseman said.
Correa hit his 25th home run on a three-run shot and the Astros clinched the AL West with a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
It is the fourth division title in five seasons and the 10th overall for the Astros.
“That sounds very special,” Correa said.
Houston is in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, extending a franchise record.
“They are used to winning and we hate losing. And now the fun begins, ”said manager Dusty Baker.
The Astros will open the American League Division Series on October 7 against the Chicago White Sox; the home field for that best-of-five showdown is yet to be determined. Houston went 2-for-5 against the White Sox this year.
Houston was a wild card team last year in Baker’s first season with the club. So where did this decisive division win rank on your list?
“Every time you win, it ranks higher than last time. And you never tire of winning, ”he said.
Correa’s big hit in the fourth inning allowed the Astros to put up a recent stretch in which they lost five of six games behind them and let the celebration begin at Minute Maid Park.
“We needed it,” Correa said. “It has been a difficult stage in the last week for us to score and we have not been doing well. But hopefully we can take this game into the next few days, warm up and take it to the postseason. “
Astros mascot Orbit ran onto the field waving a huge orange flag promoting his division title as players cheered and hugged after the final out.
“I am proud of my team,” Altuve said. “They went out every day this season for this to happen.”
Tampa Bay, which has already clinched the top spot in the American League playoffs, put runners at first and second with no outs in the ninth but didn’t score.
Rays rookie Wander Franco went 0-4 to snap a streak of 43 games on base, which tied Frank Robinson in 1956 for the longest streak in MLB history among players 20 and younger. .
“Remarkable … congratulations to Wander,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I suppose he will have a lot of streaks in his career, but this one was spectacular.”
Cash was asked about the possibility of facing the Astros in the American League Championship Series.
“We will probably both be happy if we see each other (again),” he said.
Yuli Gurriel singled to start Houston’s fourth and Kyle Tucker walked. Correa followed up with his towering shot that slammed into the wall in left field to put the Astros up 3-0 against Ryan Yarbrough (9-7).
The charismatic shortstop put a hand to his ear to cheer the crowd as the rounded third baseman on the home run trot.
Lance McCullers (13-5) didn’t allow a hit until Ji-Man Choi singled to start the sixth. There were two outs in the inning when Brandon Lowe homered on a ball to right field that passed just inside the foul pole to cut the lead to 3-2.
Kendall Graveman dropped Mike Zunino to start the eighth and was replaced by pinch runner Kevin Kiermaier. Lowe struck out and catcher Martin Maldonado threw a dart to second base to allow Correa to touch Kiermaier as he slipped to second to end the inning.
Ryan Pressly allowed a walk in the ninth inning and Franco approached an error by Altuve at second base. Nelson Cruz grounded into a double play, and pinch-hitter Yandy Diaz grounded to finish and give Pressly his 26th save.
Tampa Bay starter Collin McHugh allowed a hit at a scoreless first before Yarbrough took over. He allowed four hits and three runs in 4 2/3 innings.
McCullers retired the first nine batters he faced before walking Lowe to start the fourth. It was erased when Franco missed a force out for the second out. The Astros got the third out when Franco was caught stealing second base. It was initially declared safe, but the Astros challenged the decision and it was overturned.
Rays: RHP Matt Wisler (finger) was activated from the disabled list on Thursday. … LHP Ryan Sherriff was sent to Triple-A Durham to open a spot on the list.
Astros: RHP Zack Greinke (neck pain) allowed one hit and struck out three in two innings in a rehab start for Triple-A Sugar Land on Thursday night. … Graveman was reinstated from the paternity list on Thursday. … RHP Peter Solomon was sent to Sugar Land to make room on the roster for Graveman.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Rays: Shane McClanahan (10-6, 3.44 ERA) meets Nestor Cortes Jr. (2-2, 2.85) of the Yankees in Game 1 of a three-game series in New York on Friday night.
Astros: Houston hasn’t set its rotation for a weekend series against Oakland. LZ Sean Manaea (10-10, 3.94) will start for the Athletics in Game 1 on Friday night.