HOUSTON — Carlos Correa walked 11 steps, inadvertently one for each inning of the riveting game he had just ended, before breaking into a slow, sweet trot around the bases.
A happy pile of Houston Astros teammates tore Correa’s jersey off as he crossed home plate. He then wrapped manager A.J. Hinch in a hug, further celebrating having saved their season.
“It’s a moment that’s going to live with me forever,” Correa said after his home run beat the New York Yankees, 3-2, on Sunday night in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
The series, now tied, moves to New York with Game 3 on Tuesday afternoon.
The Yankees missed a chance to take a giant step toward their first World Series since 2009, failing to hold the 2-1 lead Aaron Judge provided with a home run off Justin Verlander in the fourth inning.
Manager Aaron Boone did all he could to steal a second victory at Minute Maid Park, making unconventional pitching moves with an urgency similar to how Alex Cora used the Red Sox staff in the playoffs last season.
“You’re playing it to win the game. You’re not playing ‘What if we go 13,’ ” Boone said. “You know?”
Boone took starter James Paxton out of the game in the third inning and used Chad Green for six outs. Adam Ottavino allowed a tying home by George Springer in the fifth inning but Tommy Kahnle and Zack Britton held the Astros down until Boone went to closer Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning with the game tied.
It all worked. So did using CC Sabathia as a one-batter lefty specialist in the 10th inning to retire Michael Brantley. When jittery rookie Jonathan Loaisiga walked the next two hitters, Boone turned to JA Happ, a starter he sent to the bullpen for the postseason.
Happ worked out of that jam. But his first pitch of the 11th inning was the high fastball Correa anticipated.
“I thought, ‘I got this. I feel like I got this,’ ” said Correa, who doubled in a run in the second inning and threw a runner out at the plate in the sixth. “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.”
The ball landed deep in the right field stands and the Astros, who have scored only 22 runs in seven postseason games, were rescued.
“That was a well-pitched game on both sides, obviously,” said Happ, who stood and took every question as the Yankees packed up to go home. “Those are really good lineups and it was a battle all night long.”
Hinch used five relievers after Verlander came out with two outs in the seventh. They allowed one hit and struck out five.
“It was great,” Hinch said of his back and forth with Boone. “This was an epic game in the playoffs with everything on the line. So obviously this has only just begun.
“I’m not drawing any conclusions on anything for him or for me. We’re doing the best to try to put our players in the best position possible. We had the right guy up at the right time a couple of different times tonight. Some of that is out of sheer luck.”
The final two batters of the game were their own spectacle.
With runners on first and second in the top of the 11th, Gary Sanchez fouled off seven pitches from Josh James before he swing and missed at a slider that bounced in front of the plate.
But home plate umpire Cory Blaser, who otherwise had a good night, ruled that Sanchez tipped the ball. Replays clearly showed he had not, but the play was not reviewable.
The next pitch was well off the outside corner and Blaser called Sanchez out.
Correa led off the bottom of the inning and ended a game that lasted four hours and 49 minutes.
“This was an incredible baseball game. It’s nerve-racking,” Verlander said.
“For me being in it, I feel much more calm. And the second I’m out of it, it’s a completely different atmosphere; I’m pacing, I can’t hardly watch.”
But Verlander should keep his eyes open. There are as many as five games left in what looks to be a compelling series.