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Cole-Bauer duel has history, recent and deep

Former UCLA teammates rivals then and now
MLB.com @castrovince

CLEVELAND -- For the past few weeks, you could see something special Bruin.

When Trevor Bauer used his Twitter account to insinuate -- purposely or otherwise -- that his former UCLA teammate Gerrit Cole and other Astros pitchers were using pine tar to improve their spin rates, you didn't have to look too deep into the schedule to see the potential for a Bauer vs. Houston or even a Bauer vs. Cole matchup. And because it wasn't exactly a state secret that Bauer and Cole, who have never faced each other, weren't exactly buddy-buddy in their Bruins days, that was a tantalizing proposition.

CLEVELAND -- For the past few weeks, you could see something special Bruin.

When Trevor Bauer used his Twitter account to insinuate -- purposely or otherwise -- that his former UCLA teammate Gerrit Cole and other Astros pitchers were using pine tar to improve their spin rates, you didn't have to look too deep into the schedule to see the potential for a Bauer vs. Houston or even a Bauer vs. Cole matchup. And because it wasn't exactly a state secret that Bauer and Cole, who have never faced each other, weren't exactly buddy-buddy in their Bruins days, that was a tantalizing proposition.

On Sunday, it arrives: Bauer vs. Cole at 1:10 p.m. ET in the finale of a four-game set at Progressive Field. It is more than just a pairing of pitchers rising to the ranks of the elite on clubs that might be bound for an October affair (although that would be enticing enough). It is a matchup that places national attention on the strained relationship between these former collegiate co-aces and the UCLA program that they once elevated.

Bauer praises Cole, looks forward to matchup

"They were program changers, both of them," UCLA coach John Savage said. "I know UCLA is very proud of them and excited not only for now, but for their bright future."

Video: SF@HOU: Cole strikes out 8 in 6 strong innings

Ah, but what of the past? It's all anybody has seemed to want to talk about from the day earlier this week that it became certain that the probables had properly aligned. Specifically, there was a USA Today story that exaggeratedly claimed the two won't speak about or even look at each other.

Let's not go that far.

"I talked to him at the [UCLA] alumni game this year and had a pleasant conversation about arbitration and what he was thinking for his number and my number, and stuff like that," Bauer said. "It was pleasant. I didn't sense any animosity on either end. So, yeah, it's a storyline. I get it. It's fun to write about, because you can play up the controversy and you can get a headline to click on, or whatever."

Cole wasn't as direct in speaking about the relationship between the two, but he noted that this is consecutive starts for him that have a bit of a personal touch, for better or worse.

"I had enough to worry about [last start] against the Giants with my brother-in-law [Brandon Crawford] in that game," Cole said. "But obviously, playing the Indians, I'll treat it like any other start or opponent. I'm fortunate to lock up against a fantastic pitcher, so you know you're going to have to be on your game."

Video: CLE@CHC: Bauer fans 6 over 6 scoreless frames

Cole and Bauer have both been on top of their games this season. They've both had some career ups and downs, even some moments in which they've struggled to live up to the pedigree of being the No. 1 (Cole) and No. 3 (Bauer) overall picks in the 2011 Draft. But in the early going of 2018, they're both on track to assert themselves into the American League Cy Young Award conversation. Cole is second in the AL only to teammate Justin Verlander in ERA with a 1.86 mark, and Bauer is seventh at 2.35.

Just a week ahead of the Draft, Cole and Bauer are reminders that the pitching path, in particular, is not always linear, but elite arms who put in the work, stay healthy and adapt along the way can do big things in the game. Bauer and Cole, who were the first teammate tandem to go at Nos. 1 and 3 overall in the Draft since Arizona State's Bob Horner and Hubie Brooks in 1978, publicly express respect toward each other for putting it all together in '18.

That doesn't mean they've become pals. Hardly. After the Twitter flap, the Astros, in general, aren't big fans of Bauer, though Cole addressed that issue as diplomatically as he could.

"It would be irresponsible for me to comment on somebody else's opinions," Cole said.

Video: HOU@OAK: Cole fans 9 over 6 frames of one-run ball

Even when explaining he has "nothing against Gerrit," Bauer brought up an old wound.

"We had a rocky relationship in college, because he told me I have no future in baseball, and he insulted my work ethic," Bauer said. "Those are two things I don't take kindly to."

One reason this issue draws so much attention is that the game is relatively short on genuine strife between rival players. MLB might have a rule against fraternization between opposing players in uniform, but co-mingling is commonplace during pregame batting practice.

So, yeah, there's something kind of fun about a little healthy discord.

But how rocky was it, anyway?

"Hate is a strong word, and I don't think it's the right word in this scenario," Savage said. "At the end of the day, they were both Bruins. They respected each other, and the program. They wanted to get to [the College World Series in] Omaha, and they knew they needed each other in many ways. I think they both were motivated by each other."

If that's the case, it worked. Bauer skipped his senior year of high school to enroll early at UCLA. Cole passed up the opportunity to sign with the Yankees for around $4 million as a first-round Draft pick to go to school. Together, they pitched for a UCLA program that had struggled to attain traction in the College World Series all the way to the National Championship Series, where they were runners-up in 2010.

"Cole was our Friday guy, Bauer was our Saturday guy, and [Adam] Plutko was our Sunday guy," Savage said, "so it was a pretty good chance we were going to win that series each week."

Plutko, who was a freshman when Bauer and Cole were juniors, is now a rookie in the Tribe rotation. As in his early UCLA days, he'll have one of the best seats in the house watching Bauer and Cole do their thing on Sunday.

"They did it in completely different ways," said Plutko, who was on the 2013 UCLA team that won the school's first national championship. "Gerrit was up to 102 [mph] some games in college, and then Trevor would go out there and punch out 16. And that was the weekend."

Video: CLE@NYY: Bauer strikes out 8 in six innings

Now, the Friday and Saturday guys meet on a Sunday. Whatever their personal history, Bauer and Cole both agree this is an awesome moment for UCLA baseball and a reminder of what they once accomplished together.

"It was a special time," Cole said. "It was historic, and really, we were just really competitive as a team and wanted to take the program to the next level. We were fortunate to do that. [Bauer] was such a special talent that junior year. That curveball, what he did that year, I don't know if it can be replicated. So this is great recognition for the program and for Coach Savage."

Added Bauer: "For the tapestry of our lives, whether we want to be or not, we're intertwined."

That'll certainly be true on Sunday.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole