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Left in 'pen, Cole's G7 moment never comes

@alysonfooter
October 31, 2019

HOUSTON -- The script was perfectly written. The Astros had a lead, their starter pitched deep into the game and they had their best pitcher pacing in the bullpen, waiting for his Game 7 moment. That moment never happened, and instead of Gerrit Cole pitching the Astros to a World

HOUSTON -- The script was perfectly written. The Astros had a lead, their starter pitched deep into the game and they had their best pitcher pacing in the bullpen, waiting for his Game 7 moment.

That moment never happened, and instead of Gerrit Cole pitching the Astros to a World Series victory, his focus will now shift to where he pitches next. That'll be quite a Hot Stove topic, given the year Cole had. But the right-hander surely would have preferred for a happier ending before riding off into the sunset of free agency.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 22 WSH 5, HOU 4 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 23 WSH 12, HOU 3 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 25 HOU 4, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 26 HOU 8, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 27 HOU 7, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 6 Oct. 29 WSH 7, HOU 2 Watch
Gm 7 Oct. 30 WSH 6, HOU 2 Watch

"I thought he was going to have a chance to pitch tonight," catcher Robinson Chirinos said. "He went down to the bullpen in the fifth inning and said, 'I'll see you later today.' I was waiting for him to come into the game."

Chirinos wasn't the only one. It was logical for Cole to pitch at some point in the winner-take-all Game 7, and it was manager AJ Hinch's intention to do so -- but only in the right situation.

Cole was dispatched to the bullpen for a purpose, and it’s fair to wonder what would have happened if he had been called on to relieve Zack Greinke in the seventh ahead of Will Harris, who gave up a go-ahead homer to Howie Kendrick, or Roberto Osuna, who followed Harris and allowed two runs in his 1 1/3 innings.

Instead, Cole watched from the 'pen as the game got out of hand. The Nationals added two more runs in the ninth, sealing the 6-2 World Series-championship-clinching win.

Did Cole expect to get into the game?

"If we were winning, yes," Cole said. "We just went over the game plan. [Hinch] laid out the most advantageous times to use me. We didn't get the [opportunity]. It's not fun."

Hinch backed up Cole's account, confirming he wasn't going to pitch his co-ace unless Houston had the lead.

"He was going to help us win," Hinch said. "He was available, and I felt it was a game that he was going to come in had we tied it or taken the lead. He was going to close the game in the ninth after I brought Osuna in had we kept the lead."

The lack of runs late stopped Cole from having his own Randy Johnson-Madison Bumgarner-Chris Sale moment, but that will have no effect on Cole's brief but dramatic Houston legacy, assuming he does sign elsewhere. Cole produced one of the best seasons in Astros history, and, if not for Justin Verlander's equally impressive 2019 that included a no-hitter, he'd be the runaway favorite to win the American League Cy Young Award.

Cole set a club record with 326 strikeouts during the regular season, surpassing J.R. Richard (313). After ending the campaign on a 16-game winning streak, Cole was also nails in the postseason, posting a 1.72 ERA and 47 strikeouts across five starts and 36 2/3 innings.

More significantly, Cole was exposed to the frenetic nature of October in a manner he wasn't afforded during his years with Pittsburgh. Whether the taste of winning affects his decisions this offseason remains to be seen. But presumably, his two years with Houston were among his happiest.

"The group is just so unique," Cole said. "I'm going to have some friends from this clubhouse for the rest of my life. You just take situations like that for granted. Winning a lot is fun."

Losing is not, and the scene in the clubhouse after the Astros' Game 7 loss was somber. It wasn't the best time to start waxing nostalgic on topics that run deeper than the immediacy of a World Series loss, but that's the nature of the postseason. Questions come at the team from all directions. Cole's future was among them.

The soon-to-be free agent is expected to have several suitors, from the deep-pocketed usual cast of characters, like the Yankees, to the teams on the West Coast, which Cole, a Southern California native, may favor.

Regardless of where he ends up, Cole’s place in Houston Astros history is secure.

"I'm not sure I've had the time to really think about it other than Gerrit is one of my favorite players I've ever been around," Hinch said, adding that the two had "an incredible conversation" about what the righty was willing to do to win the World Series.

"And that means a lot to me, and it means a lot to this team," Hinch said. "And he's meant a lot to this franchise."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.