SEATTLE -- Forty years ago, J.R. Richard was one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball, striking out batters at a rate that few have before or since. He fanned an Astros-record 313 in 1979 -- his final full season in the big leagues -- and finished third in National
SEATTLE -- Forty years ago, J.R. Richard was one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball, striking out batters at a rate that few have before or since. He fanned an Astros-record 313 in 1979 -- his final full season in the big leagues -- and finished third in National League Cy Young Award voting.
Despite the Astros’ rich pitching history that includes Richard, all-time MLB strikeout king Nolan Ryan, former Cy Young winner and strikeout artist Mike Scott and seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, Richard’s mark held firm until Tuesday night.
Gerrit Cole struck out 14 batters and allowed two singles in seven scoreless innings, breaking Richard’s club record when he whiffed Mariners rookie outfielder Kyle Lewis in the seventh inning of the Astros’ 3-0 win over the Mariners at T-Mobile Park. He has 316 strikeouts heading into his final start of the season Sunday in Anaheim.
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“Tremendous honor to be his manager and watch him pitch,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “And for him to set a record that could stand for a really, really long time, it’s pretty remarkable.”
When Cole got Lewis to swing through a slider for strikeout No. 314, his teammates clapped on the top steps of the dugout, with Cole touching his cap to salute them and a strong contingent of orange-clad Astros fans. He threw the baseball into the dugout for a keepsake.
“I just wanted to recognize them and take a moment with my teammates, because they’re responsible for a lot of the confidence I have,” Cole said. “It plays a big part.”
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Cole, Richard (313 in ’79 and 303 in ’78) and Scott (306 in ’86) are the only Astros pitchers to reach 300 strikeouts in a season. Justin Verlander, who’s battling tooth-and-nail with Cole in a riveting American League Cy Young race, can join that club if he strikes out 12 in his final regular-season start on Saturday.
If Cole reaches double-digit strikeouts in his final start, he would break a Major League record he tied with his start on Tuesday.
Cole has whiffed at least 10 batters in eight consecutive starts, tying the MLB record shared with Chris Sale (2015, '17) and Pedro Martinez (1999). Cole also joins Hall of Famers Randy Johnson (four times), Ryan (twice) and Sandy Koufax (once) as the only pitchers with 20 starts of at least 10 strikeouts in a single season since 1920. He’s struck out at least 14 batters five times.
“It’s incredible to watch him every time he goes out there,” Hinch said. “I love the way he talks about pitching, the way he thinks about pitching and how he goes out and executes. He made some adjustments today. All of his pitches were very effective. I’m not sure anybody in the game finishes his outing as well as Gerrit Cole does.”
The Astros (103-54) tied their club record for most victories in a season, a mark they set last year. They lead the Yankees by 1 1/2 games for the best record in the Major Leagues, which comes with home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
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The only run the Astros needed came in the fourth when Alex Bregman, making a charge for American League MVP, walloped his 40th homer. Bregman joins Jeff Bagwell (three times), Lance Berkman (twice) and Richard Hidalgo (once) as the only Astros to hit 40 homers in a season. Houston has homered in a franchise-record 20 consecutive games.
“I was fired up,” Bregman said. “Of course, 40 is awesome. One of the goals this year was 50, but we came up short. We only have five games [left]. I don’t think I’m going two a game. We’ve got to keep rolling.”
When asked about Cole, Bregman said he makes it look as easy as playing a video game.
“He pushes a button and he puts it wherever he wants,” he said. “It’s been insane, the run he’s been on. It’s been a lot of fun to throw the ball around the infield after he strikes people out.”
Cole, scoffing jokingly, said it’s not quite that easy.
“It doesn’t happen as maybe Alex thinks,” he said. “So, when that’s not happening, it can be just as fun to try to get creative to keep them off balance when you can’t locate the ball quite as well as you wanted. You just kind of try to adjust with what you have that night and make it work the best you can.”
In his final regular-season start Sunday against the Angels, Cole (19-5) will try to join Verlander as a 20-game winner for the first time in his career. He won 19 games with the Pirates in 2015 and came up short in a chance to win in his final start that season.
“It’s one of the things I don’t have as much control over as I think I do, but I’m as proud of it as any stat I have,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I think it would be really unique to have two guys win 40 games. ... I’m excited to shoot for it.”
Cole improved to 15-0 with a 1.77 ERA in 22 starts since May 27, becoming the first pitcher since Hall of Famer Roy Halladay in 2003 to have a 15-game winning streak in a season. He is the first Major League pitcher to reach 316 strikeouts since Johnson had 334 in 2002 and the first AL pitcher since Ryan, who had 341 in 1977.
“When his name is there as a starting pitcher, I can imagine for the opponent it’s pretty daunting,” Hinch said.
Mariners manager Scott Servais can attest.
“He’s basically dominating the league right now, and we’ve seen him a few too many times this year,” he said. “He had it going on tonight, all four pitches working, locating them, threw a ton of changeups. It looked like he was working on that pitch for a little while. He’s having an outstanding season, and he shut us down. We’re not the only team he’s shut down this year or will shut down the remainder of their season.”
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.