HOUSTON -- In the biggest game he’s pitched in his life, right-hander Gerrit Cole gave the Astros an untimely reminder that he is indeed human. That was sometimes easy to forget over the past five months, when Cole was an automatic win while leading Houston into the World Series for the second time in three seasons.
Cole’s run of domination came to an end in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park when he gave up five runs on eight hits and struck out only six batters in seven innings in a 5-4 loss to the Nationals. It was the first time the Astros lost a game with Cole on the mound since July 12.
“I didn’t have my A-game tonight and outside of a few pitches that kind of tacked on a couple of runs, we worked pretty well with what we had,” Cole said. “These are the two best teams in the world right now, so you try not to beat yourself up too much, especially if you’ve got to grind in those situations.”
Cole, who was 19-0 with a 1.59 ERA in 25 starts since May 27, lost a game for the first time since May 22, a span of five months. He struggled to command his curveball and battled an inconsistent slider. Cole allowed as many runs in seven innings to the Nats as he had given up in 50 2/3 innings over his previous seven starts.
Cole lamented a poor pitch to Ryan Zimmerman that resulted in a second-inning homer and a two-run double to Juan Soto in the fifth that keyed a three-run inning that put the Nationals ahead, 5-2. He also gave up a leadoff homer to Soto in the fourth.
“I think he came into the game very well and then lost a couple of key two-strike battles,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “The Zimmerman pitch was a mistake, and Zimmerman made him pay with a homer. He never really controlled Soto the whole night. He punched him the first at-bat and then after that, Soto took some really good swings, twice against Gerrit and once again Will [Harris].”
The pivotal three-run fifth was an exercise in frustration for Cole. It began with the scored tied at 2 and the bottom of the Nats’ order due up. Kurt Suzuki drew a walk and nine-hole hitter Victor Robles hit a two-strike single to right through the shift after failing to put down a drag bunt. A broken-bat single by Adam Eaton scored Suzuki to break the tie one out before Soto’s double off the left-field wall scored two more to make it 5-2.
“It’s like, it’s tough,” Cole said. “You’ve got to keep making pitches, and unfortunately we didn’t make quite as many as we needed to that inning to keep it from a crooked number.”
Hinch called Soto's at-bat in the fifth the biggest of the game.
“All in all, we knew it was going to be tough,” he said. “These guys are really tough to put away. They don't strike out a lot. And they proved tonight they're putting the ball in play and a couple of two-strike at-bats, finding some holes, hitting a few balls hard, couple of balls out of the ballpark. That's how they beat him.”
Soto, the 20-year-old who stole the show in Game 1, went 3-for-4 with three RBIs and was retired only once, when Cole struck him out to end the first inning.
“Well, I mean, he’s really talented,” Cole said. “I’m not pleased with the double -- threw him a good slider up and in. I’ll move on to the next pitch and challenge him up and away and he stayed back and drives it. That was a good swing on a good pitch. And then the last at-bat, the slider was poor. It didn’t end up over the heart of the plate. It certainly probably didn’t break quite like we wanted it to. He, again, used the whole field and he stayed back and stayed within himself. Good hitters do that.”
If there was any positive for Cole, it’s that he was able to finish strong, sending down the last five hitters he faced to get through seven innings. The Astros rallied late behind George Springer, who homered in the seventh and had an RBI double in the eighth, but it wasn’t enough to get Cole off the hook.
“It wasn’t my sharpest game,” he said. “Like I said, we had to get creative. I thought the fastball was leaking a little bit off the corner a couple of times. I struggled with the curveball command and kind of buried us in some bad counts. Poor pitch to Soto not being able to finish that inning off without a crooked number. We’ll just have to keep going. We’ve got Justin [Verlander] tomorrow, and we’ll start the recovery process and get ready for the next time I need to take the ball.”