HOUSTON -- Astros starter Gerrit Cole, who flew home from Seattle earlier than his teammates Thursday and avoided a late-night arrival following a 14-inning win over the Mariners, texted manager AJ Hinch on Friday and told him his gas tank was full.
With the Astros trying to avoid using as many as five relievers in their worn-out bullpen, Cole carried the workload in Friday’s series opener against the Orioles by striking out a season-high batters 14 batters with no walks in seven strong innings. The Astros won the game, 4-3, in the 11th when catcher Robinson Chirinos delivered a two-out double to score Yuli Gurriel from first base, sparking a walk-off celebration at Minute Maid Park following a replay review that showed Gurriel was never tagged by catcher Chance Sisco on a relay throw that beat him to the plate.
“He pitched with a little anger, and he pitched with some aggressiveness,” Hinch said of Cole. “I think he felt like he needed to have this performance for us.”
Cionel Perez, called up from Triple-A Round Rock prior to Friday’s game, followed Cole by retiring all nine batters he faced to pick up his first Major League win. Astros pitchers set down 30 of the last 33 Orioles hitters they faced, including 19 of the final 20.
Cole said picking up the bullpen was forefront in his mind.
“Just trying to at least get through seven,” Cole said. “I did the bare minimum of my goal. I wish I would have made a better pitch or two in the first inning, but for the most part, we did a nice job tonight. [Chirinos] was just fantastic.”
Cole gave up two unearned runs in the first and a solo homer to Sisco in the third to fall behind, 3-0, before striking out nine of the final 14 batters he faced. It was his most strikeouts since a career-high 16 on May 4, 2018, against the D-backs. He struck out the side in the seventh.
“That was unbelievable,” Chirinos said. “When he came out his last inning, he looked better than what he looked in the first inning. That’s the kind of pitcher he is. It was fun to be behind the plate and watch all those swings and misses.”
Cole, who took over the Major League lead with 130 strikeouts, registered 29 swings and misses, the most in MLB since James Paxton with the Mariners on May 2, 2018. It’s also the most by an Astros pitcher since the pitch tracking began in 2008.
Cole got 19 of his 29 swinging strikes on his four-seam fastball, which ranks third in the Majors this year behind the Twins' Jake Odorizzi (20 on June 2) and himself (22 on May 27).
“I was trying to locate it tonight,” Cole said. “I really wasn’t trying to go for the swing and miss, except for the last inning. And so, I guess, maybe I’ll do that more often. I wanted to finish it off right.”
The Astros scored three runs in the fifth to tie the game on a solo homer by Josh Reddick and a two-run homer into the upper deck in right field by Tony Kemp.
“What a night on the mound for us on a game where we didn’t really get into the game very well,” Hinch said. “We didn’t play good defense in the first. For Cole, we should have made two plays, and he ends up getting dinged for a couple of runs and then a solo homer. It was a very moderate energy for us at the beginning of the game. When we got the three runs, it sort of kick-started the whole building.”