Coming into Tuesday's start against the Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole lead the majors in strikeouts with 302 on the season -- teammate Justin Verlander, 14 back, was the next closest. Given that Mariners hitters as a group have the fifth-highest strikeout rate in baseball, and that Cole had notched 10-plus Ks in seven consecutive outings, it was safe to assume that there were going to be a lot of punch outs and empty swings.
And indeed there were. Cole made the most of his opportunity to pad his lead by striking out 14 batters over seven shutout innings. He permitted just two hits and walked none, all the while eliciting 17 swinging strikes on 101 pitches and averaging 97.5 mph on his fastball. Cole was dominant, in other words. So dominant that he moved into ninth place in American League history in strikeouts with one start remaining -- thus giving him a chance to claim a different record as his own:
Gerrit Cole has tied the single-season record for consecutive 10-K games with his 8th in a row.— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) September 25, 2019
Chris Sale did it in 2015 & 2017
Pedro Martínez did it in 1999
Cole isn't likely to move up much further -- he's nine behind Sam McDowell for eighth, and 11 behind Nolan Ryan for seventh -- but he's only the second pitcher since the last round of expansion to join the top 10, with Pedro Martinez (in 1999) being the other. Chris Sale (2017) had been in 11th place entering this season. In fact, Cole has now recorded the most strikeouts by an AL pitcher since Ryan struck out 341 in 1977.
That's some impressive company, and joining it comes at a good time for Cole -- he's set to hit the open market this winter, presumably with an eye on earning the richest free-agent contract ever handed out to a pitcher.