WASHINGTON -- If this is the end of the line of Gerrit Cole with the Astros, his place as one of the most distinguished players in club history is secure. From the 19-game winning streak, to the staggering strikeout totals, to his intensity on the mound, Cole’s two years in
WASHINGTON -- If this is the end of the line of Gerrit Cole with the Astros, his place as one of the most distinguished players in club history is secure. From the 19-game winning streak, to the staggering strikeout totals, to his intensity on the mound, Cole’s two years in orange have been beyond compare.
The climax of his brilliance with the Astros came Sunday night in Game 5 of the World Series when he threw seven innings, allowing one run on a Juan Soto homer while striking out nine batters to lead Houston to a 7-1 win over the Nationals that has the Astros one win away from their second World Series championship in three seasons.
This night will be remembered as one of the most clutch big-game performances in Astros history, especially considering Cole wiped away the disappointment from his Game 1 loss -- his first setback in five months -- and returned to his dominating form.
“He was unbelievable,” Houston outfielder George Springer said. “He brings intensity, a tenacity ... I don’t really know how to describe it. He showed up today and it was business from the time he got here until the time he came out of the game. He was lights-out. He threw all of his stuff for strikes and it was special to watch.”
Coming off a disappointing performance in Game 1 in which he gave up five runs in seven innings for his first loss since May 22, Cole served notice to the Nationals that he was at another level when he struck out Trea Turner swinging to start the game. Cole carried a two-hit shutout into the seventh inning before Soto hit a 2-2 changeup into the center-field seats. The right-hander threw 71 of his 110 pitches for strikes.
“I thought this stuff was crisper,” Cole said. “I thought we executed more pitches.”
Cole’s slider was improved from his Game 1 loss and he went to it often. He got six swings and misses on that pitch, recording six of his strikeouts on the slider. Cole averaged 89.9 mph on the slider in Game 5, up from 89.1 mph in Game 1. He got only three swings and misses on the slider in Game 1.
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And Cole put away hitters relentlessly. The Nats were 2-for-23 when the last pitch of the at-bat was thrown with two strikes.
“I thought his execution was better, and I think when he dotted his pitches it was great,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “When he missed, he was barely missing in the right areas. And I think his rhythm, his timing, his use of his pitches got better and better as the game went on.”
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Cole was tested in the second when Soto and Howie Kendrick began the inning with consecutive singles to put runners on the corners with no outs and get the Nationals Park crowd roaring with excitement. He reached back and struck out Ryan Zimmerman swinging on a curveball before getting Victor Robles to hit into a 6-4-3 double play.
“You're just going to make your pitches, get a little bit of leverage to Robles, keep the pressure on him,” Cole said. “Fortunately, the ground ball was hit hard enough that we were able to turn the double play. We didn't get fortunate in the first game with [Anthony] Rendon in a similar situation where we weren't able to go around the horn because the ball was hit too slow. We executed a couple of pitches there.”
Cole allowed only one more hit -- Soto's homer in the seventh. Asked on the field after the game if he lobbied to stay in the game, Cole said he had emptied the tank, as he always does.
“I was tapped today,” he said. “That was all I had.”
His final pitch was a 98 mph fastball on the outside edge that froze Robles for a questionable called strike three and capped a 26-pitch seventh inning.
“In that situation after one run in, you have a three-run lead, you're trying to stay away from the rallies,” Cole said. “So you're just going to make your pitches.”
That punchout gave Cole 47 in this postseason, tying Cliff Lee’s single-season American League playoff record set in 2010. The only pitcher with more in the playoffs is Curt Schilling, with 56 for the D-backs in 2001. For the season, including regular season and playoffs, Cole struck out 373 batters in 249 innings.
Cole will carry an impressive resume that includes a 1.72 postseason ERA in 2019 and a 20-win, 326-strikeout regular season into free agency. He’ll be the biggest prize on the market, so his return to Houston is up in the air. That didn’t matter Sunday night. Cole had a legacy to secure.
“I hope it's his last outing,” Hinch said. “I know everybody is going to ask me if it gets to Game 7 if he's available, but I want to finish this in six. But what he did tonight, the feel for the game, the importance of this game, the reaction to them having to change from [Max] Scherzer to [Joe] Ross, he still set an excellent tone for us. And he provided the intensity that's needed.”
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.