HOUSTON – In many other years, Gerrit Cole would be the runaway favorite for the Cy Young. He’s doing the kinds of things few pitchers in Astros history have ever achieved, as well as some in Major League history. His dominance over the past three months has been jaw-dropping.
Cole, the Astros’ hard-throwing co-ace, is continuing to chase ageless teammate Justin Verlander in the American League Cy Young Award race, adding another impressive start to his resume in Sunday’s 21-1 win over the Mariners in which he allowed one hit and no walks while striking out 15 over eight dominating innings.
“Today was a pretty special day, just kind of all around,” Cole said. “We played really great defense. [Catcher Martin] Maldonado was on his game. The offense was explosive to say the least. We just executed a lot of pitches today.”
Cole joined Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez (1999) the only pitchers in Major League history to strike out 14 or more batters in three consecutive games. He tied Verlander’s Astros Minute Maid Park record of 15 strikeouts, which was set on June 12 against the Brewers. Cole also has six games of at least 10 strikeouts and no walks, which ties the single-season Major League record.
“You have days like this where I don’t know many times I’ve been this good,” Cole said. “That’s pretty exciting."
Cole, celebrating his 29th birthday, improved to 12-0 with a 1.97 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in 18 starts since May 27, with the Astros going 16-2 when he takes the ball in that stretch. He tied the club record for consecutive wins set by Mark Portugal (1993) and matched by Wade Miller (2002).
The only baserunner the Mariners managed against Cole (16-5) was a 338-foot homer in the fourth into the first row of the Crawford Boxes by Shed Long that came after the red-hot pitcher had to sit on the bench for more than 30 minutes while the Astros rocked the Mariners for nine runs in the third inning.
“It was a special day for him,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “His stuff was really good. Other than that, his Crawford Box homer, he was nearly perfect. I think coming back from those long innings is not easy. He makes it look pretty easy. He was locked in command-wise, stuff-wise, intensity-wise. It was a good day for him.”
Pitching one week to the day Verlander threw his third no-hitter, beating the Blue Jays in Toronto, Cole didn’t spend too much lamenting the homer to Long, which may have cost him a shot at his first no-no. The ball hit was 95.2-mph off the bat and had a .250 expected batting average, according to Statcast.
“You can only control so much,” Cole said. “After the long inning, I executed the pitch the way I wanted to -- a fastball at the top of the zone. We got him on that the first at-bat. … He put the barrel on it. He worked the top hand pretty good there and got it out. He hit the ball pretty hard the following at-bat, too, into the shift. Maybe it evened out.”
While the Astros were scoring nine runs in the third, Cole did his best to try to keep his mind sharp and his body warm.
“You can throw the ball against the wall down there and do a bunch of squats and move around,” he said. “It’s a bit challenging to keep the perspiration going a lot. Just to try to remain indifferent as to like what’s going on is a bit challenging. Even though the game wasn’t tremendously long, you’re trying to stay in a rhythm physically as much as mentally. I handled it pretty well and we were having some conversations in between, which kind of kept me engaged.”
Hinch pulled Cole after eight innings and 96 pitches. Cole wanted to try to finish off the complete game, but there was no reason to push it with the Astros up by 20 runs. There’s still plenty for him to achieve in his final four starts. Cole has a career-high 281 strikeouts, needing 19 more to become the third different Astros pitcher to reach 300 in any season.
“I didn’t want to go over 100 [pitches] and I probably shouldn’t have had him pitch the eighth,” Hinch said. “But out of respect of what was going on today and how he was pitching – the strikeouts and the way he was – I sent him out for the eighth but I wasn’t going to send him out for the ninth no matter what.”