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Cole's return a smasher: 12 K's, 7 shutout IP

@brianmctaggart
August 23, 2019

HOUSTON -- The Astros had suffered a hard-to-swallow loss the night before, so no one was in the mood to answer for another one. Gerrit Cole did his part by dominating the Tigers for seven innings Thursday night, and Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley powered an offense that was missing

HOUSTON -- The Astros had suffered a hard-to-swallow loss the night before, so no one was in the mood to answer for another one. Gerrit Cole did his part by dominating the Tigers for seven innings Thursday night, and Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley powered an offense that was missing in action 24 hours earlier.

As a result, the Astros headed to the ninth inning with a six-run lead at Minute Maid Park. They then held on for dear life as the Tigers scored three times after Cole was out of the game and threatened to tie it before right fielder Josh Reddick caught Dawel Lugo’s fly ball at the wall to seal a 6-3 win and strand a pair of runners on base.

Box score

The Astros took three of four games from the Tigers, improving to 82-47. They are one game behind the Yankees for the best record in the American League.

“That was obviously close, but all’s well that ends well,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “You can’t sit up here and start complaining about how you win. You just win the game and get to the next day on the calendar and work to be a little bit better.”

A day after Justin Verlander held the Tigers to two hits -- both solo homers -- in a gut-wrenching complete-game loss, fellow American League Cy Young candidate Cole dominated, as well. Cole, pitching for the first time since Aug. 7 because of right hamstring discomfort, allowed two singles and a walk while striking out 12 batters.

Cole (15-5) improved to 11-0 with a 1.84 ERA in his last 15 starts and is one shy of the club record of 12 consecutive wins set by Mark Portugal in 1993 and matched by Wade Miller in 2002. Cole’s 12 strikeouts gave him 238 for the season, putting him one behind Verlander for the Major League lead.

Cole has 14 games this season with at least 10 strikeouts in seven innings pitched or fewer, which is the most by a pitcher in a single season in the modern era (since 1900). What’s more, he has 14 double-digit strikeout games this year, tying the franchise record set by J.R. Richard in 1978 and ’79.

“I felt good,” Cole said. “I thought [catcher] Martin [Maldonado] and I were working on the same page tonight a lot and we executed a lot of good pitches, had good fastball command, for the most part. We snuck out just enough offense and were able to hold the lead until we kind of extended it and held on at the end.”

Scratched from his Aug. 13 start at Chicago just minutes before first pitch when his hamstring tightened, Cole came out convicted and aggressive. He struck out the first two batters he faced and breezed through an 11-pitch first inning. He wound up retiring 21 of the 24 batters he faced and threw 65 of 94 pitches for strikes, including 25 swinging strikes.

“Almost felt like the first inning, he was going to make every single person in the building know he was fine,” Hinch said. “He even wanted to go back out for the eighth inning, which was a good sign. His stuff was really fresh, and he didn’t look the least bit concerned. There was no governor on him. He was letting it go and pitching very effectively. Very impressed with how he approached the game from the very beginning. He was going to set the tone for us after a tough loss.”

Bregman’s career-high-tying 31st homer of the season in the fourth inning put the Astros ahead, 2-0, and Yordan Alvarez ripped a double to right field in the sixth to give him 57 RBIs in 57 games played. Brantley went 3-for-4 with two RBIs to extend his hitting streak to 15 games and take over the Major League batting lead with a .338 average. He also leads the Majors with 51 multihit games.

“It was one of those games that you knew it was going to be tough with Cole on the mound, and you do everything you can to keep it close and try to put up zeroes,” Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann said. “I made a good pitch to Bregman -- fastball in -- and I think I jammed him a little bit, but that short porch in left, he was able to get it out.”

Bregman certainly didn’t want Cole to feel the same feeling as Verlander did on Wednesday.

“For sure, but [Cole] set the tone,” he said. “He came out dominant and was striking a lot of guys out. We knew we had to get him some runs, especially based on the fact that Verlander threw the same thing yesterday and we didn’t give him any run support. It was a good team win today and good series win. Back at it again tomorrow.”

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.