HOUSTON -- Carlos Correa's coming-out party in the 2015 American League Division Series also provided him perhaps the most agonizing moment in his career, a moment that continues to drives him.
Correa, then a 21-year-old AL Rookie of the Year, homered in the second and seventh innings in Game 4 off Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, helping the Astros to a 6-2 lead and within six outs of eliminating the Royals. But an improbable eighth-inning rally, helped along by a Correa fielding error at shortstop, allowed the Royals to escape Houston with a 9-6 victory and an eventual series win.
After missing out on the playoffs last year, Correa's return to the ALDS presented by Doosan puts him back on baseball's postseason stage. The Astros will face the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALDS today at Minute Maid Park.
"It's a different Carlos," Correa said. "I think I'm a way better hitter, way better player, way better all-around mentally. A lot more prepared, more experience. I just feel good about this year."
Correa set career highs in batting average (.315), on-base percentage (.391), slugging percentage (.550) and OPS (.941), while setting the franchise record for a shortstop with 24 homers and driving in 84 runs. That's even after missing six weeks with a thumb ligament injury that required surgery.
It took Correa a while to get in gear at the plate when he came off the disabled list in early September, but he hit .520 with four doubles, three homers, eight runs and 10 RBIs in the final week of the regular season.
"I'm not going to lie," he said. "I felt really good the last week. I felt really good all season. I think it's been my best season so far, even though I don't have the official at-bats. A .941 OPS, I think that's pretty good. That's what I was hoping for this year, and obviously I want to raise the bar even higher for next year."
The error in Game 4 two years ago came with the bases loaded and no outs. The Astros' lead had been cut to 6-4, and reliever Tony Sipp got Kendrys Morales to hit a grounder up the middle. The ball tipped off Sipp's glove and took an awkward bounce on the mound before going over the glove of a charging Correa. Two runs scored to tie the game.
"The thing I learned the most is every time the ball hits the mound, stay back and don't go get it," Correa said. "It happened a couple of times this year and I just stayed back and waited for it, and when I got a different spin, I just grabbed it and touched the base and threw to first.
"I guess that play made me learn a lot, and now every time I see the ball hit the mound, I stay back and wait because I know the spin is going to change. I had to learn it at a young age in a tough stage, because obviously it was an important game. But at the end of the day it made me a better player."
Now that he's back in the playoffs, Astros manager A.J. Hinch expects Correa to rise to the moment.
"He's so driven to be great, and most of the great ones are," Hinch said. "I mean, it's how they're built and how they go about it. But I love how he takes it personal when people challenge him about playing shortstop, and I love how personal he takes it in being in the middle of the order and wanting to be the most productive hitter on the team."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.