Following a historic pitching performance from Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the ALDS, Gerrit Cole cemented his name in postseason history to help the Houston Astros beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 3-1, at Minute Maid Park Saturday night.
Through the first two innings, Cole struck out five batters swinging which tied him for the second-most in the Statcast Era (2008) with Chris Tillman's performance in 2004 in Game 1 of the ALDS against Detriot.
That was only the beginning of his 7.2-inning performance where he allowed only four hits, one walk and struck out 15 batters, making him the franchise leader in single-game postseason strikeouts.
Despite the end of his outing coming with two outs in the top of the eighth after he surrendered his first walk to Willy Adames, the sold-out Houston crowd gave the pitcher one of the loudest ovations of the evening on his way back to the dugout.
"There was some traffic on the bases and there was still some work to be done but I feel like we have a good connection to the fans as a team," Cole said. "It was a special night, they were into it. I think we felt them out there as well as they felt us."
All 43,378 in attendance helped bring the energy in a pitcher's duel that was finally broken open with a fourth-inning home run off the bat of Alex Bregman to the Crawford Boxes for his 7th postseason dinger, all of which have come off All-Star pitchers.
"Just was trying to put a good swing on a pitch," Bregman said. "(Blake) Snell is tough, the reigning Cy Young. So I was just fortunate enough to get the barrel on it to get us off to a good start. I think scoring first is huge in the postseason."
It proved to be so and also a big thanks to Cole's record-setting performance, of course, but he also mentioned the man he was throwing the ball to and the relationship he has with all of the Astros' catchers.
"It goes through the whole staff, (I threw to) three of four different guys this year and I picked up a win with every one of them," Cole said. "It's not just Martin (Maldonado, the Game 2 backstop), it's Robbie, it's Stubby, it's Max. The communication between that corps and the pitching staff is really good. We try to get on the same page and pitch collectively as a unit."
Maldonado not only got it done behind the plate but also provided a bloop hit to left field which scored Yuli Gurriel for Houston's second run of the ballgame in the 7th inning.
"I thought specifically this evening, Martin was as locked in as I've ever seen him," Cole said. "Driving in runs, running the bases, I don't know how many leverage blocks he had in the last inning and that's tough to do. I threw 118 (pitches), (Roberto) Osuna threw 30, Will (Harris) threw somewhere around 10, that's 150 pitches and he's dropping to his knees without any room for error after three hours with high-leverage pitches.
"He had one of his best nights back there and it's a big reason why we won the game," Cole said.
When it was all said and done he had quite a few records not only within the Astros' franchise but also league-wide.
With all of that, the Astros take a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 series that shifts to Tampa Bay for Game 3 Monday evening and the message from the manager remains the same.
"We need to win the series on Monday, as quickly as possible, get these guys some rest and hopefully close this thing out," said Houston skipper AJ Hinch.