HOUSTON -- This is no time to talk about records or milestones, Gerrit Cole says. All that stuff will sort itself out at the end of the year. Cole and the Astros have their sights set on the playoffs and a deep run through October. Personal goals will have to wait.
Whenever Cole decides to sit back and reflect upon his magnificent 2019 season, he’ll have plenty of good things to remember. His latest achievement was setting a franchise record by recording his 15th double-digit strikeout game of the season Wednesday night as the Astros won their sixth in a row, 8-6, over the Rays at Minute Maid Park.
“It’s nice, it’s a pretty cool statistic,” Cole said. “I mean, I don’t know what to say to those things. Yeah, it’s really cool. It’s not something that I’ll spend much time on. Maybe at the end of the season. I’ve got to recover for Milwaukee [on Monday].”
The Astros (87-47) improved to 40 games over .500 and opened up a 10-game lead in the American League West by improving to 51-16 at home.
Cole, who took a no-decision, struck out 14 Rays batters in 6 2/3 innings to tie a season high while allowing four runs. In doing so, he surpassed the previous club record of 14 double-digit strikeout games he shared with J.R. Richard (1978-79). He’s the second pitcher in the live-ball era (since 1920) to go undefeated with at least 150 strikeouts over a 16-start span (Roger Clemens in 1998).
“He did what he does every five days,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Lot of power. Fastballs. He had a good breaking ball, a good slider, a good changeup, and then 98 to 100 [mph]. You’re going to have your hands full.”
Cole mixed his pitches effectively in a 112-pitch outing that included 59 fastballs, 19 sliders, 16 changeups and 18 curves. He touched 100.2 mph in the sixth inning.
“We had good options,” Cole said. “We were confident in a lot of different pitches. You try to be creative sometimes, try to keep them off-balance. When they have the lead, you don’t want to fall into too predictable counts because they’re playing with house money at that point. You want to try to be creative and keep them off-balance as much as you can. Maybe that kind of played into the situation as well.”
Cole struck out the first three batters he faced and then whiffed three more in the sixth, getting Avisail Garcia swinging on a 99.9-mph fastball for his 12th strikeout of the game to end the inning. The 14 strikeouts gave him 252 for the season, which is the seventh most in a season in club history. Cole also regained the Major League strikeout lead from teammate Justin Verlander.
“He comes out and sets a tone that is second to none,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “I think he’s very convicted. What I see in him is a conviction that he’s prepared, he knows the game plan he wants to do. He holds himself to an incredibly high bar. He will miss a pitch by a fraction, and no matter what the result of the at-bat is, he holds himself pretty accountable.”
After Cole left the game trailing 4-3, the Astros rallied for three runs in the seventh, with catcher Martin Maldonado chugging home from second base to score the go-ahead run on a bloop single by George Springer. Will Harris (4-1) struck out three of the four batters he faced in relief of Cole to get the win.
“We were forced to answer a few blows by them, and credit to them for those blows,” Cole said. “The balk, wild pitch is self-inflicted. I don’t really know how the ball fell out of my glove. It’s sometimes the way these things go, and when you play good teams you’re not going to be able to be perfect, especially when they put good swings on good pitches. For us to answer back and keep the pressure on as we get deeper into the game is what we need to do. We need to continue to try to grind through that.”