Astros vs. Rays score: Gerrit Cole strikes out 15, Alex Bregman homers as Houston takes commanding lead in ALDS
Houston heads to Tropicana Field up 2-0
The Astros on Saturday night in Houston rode a dominant Gerrit Cole to a tense 3-1 win over the Rays in Game 2 of the American League Division Series (box score). In 7 2/3 innings of work, Cole struck out 15, walked one and allowed no runs.
Those 15 strikeouts are a franchise postseason record, and just two pitchers -- Bob Gibson of the Cardinals in 1968 (17) and Kevin Brown of the Padres in 1998 (16) -- have struck out more batters in a game. He's also the first to strike out 15 or more in a playoff start since Roger Clemens in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS. Going back to the regular season, this is Cole's 10th straight start with at least 10 strikeouts.
The first run of the game came on an Alex Bregman full-count home run to left off Tampa Bay starter Blake Snell in the fourth inning. The Astros added an insurance run in the seventh when Martin Maldonado singled home Yuli Gurriel. Carlos Correa made it 3-0 in the eighth when he drove in Bregman with a single to right.
Roberto Osuna followed up Cole and stranded two runners to end the eighth, but he wasn't up to the task in the ninth. He loaded the bases with no outs on back-to-back base hits followed by a walk. Osuna then allowed a run on a groundout and loaded the bases again on his second walk of the inning. At that point, Houston manager A.J. Hinch summoned Will Harris. He struck out Travis d'Arnaud and got Kevin Kiermaier to ground out and end the game.
With the win, the Astros are now up 2-0 on the Rays in this best-of-five series. They'll go for the sweep on Monday at Tropicana Field.
How the Astros won
It's easy to exhaust the superlatives in describing Cole's performance in Game 2:
He had tremendous command of both his breaking pitches for almost the entire night, and he hit triple digits with his fastball on multiple occasions. Get a load of his 87-mph knuckle-curve, for instance:
Indeed, on the eighth pitch of his eighth-inning battle with Travis d'Arnaud -- and his 116th pitch of the night -- Cole hit 101.1 mph with his four-seamer. A few pitches later, he clocked in at 99.9 mph with a fastball to Willy Adames.
Cole had 13 swings and misses through innings and 23 through five. He wound up with 33 swings and misses, which is an absurd total. Then again, this is the guy who during the regular season set an all-time record among qualifiers by striking out 39.9 percent of opposing batters.
Cole, a former No. 1 overall pick out of UCLA, has always had top-tier stuff, and with Pittsburgh he showed he could pitch at an ace level. Since joining the Astros prior to last season, however, he's increased his spin rate and become perhaps the most dominant starting pitcher in baseball. Game 2 occasioned an acute reminder of what Maximum Cole is capable of.
Also, a nod to manager A.J. Hinch for letting Cole chase this as far as he could. One wondered whether his strikeout of d'Arnaud in the eighth, which came on the 10th pitch of the at-bat and which featured his spottiest command of the night, would be his final batter. Then he allowed a first-pitch double to Kiermaier, which brought the potential tying run to the plate, and still Hinch let Cole continue. Finally, he'd seen enough after Cole's seven-pitch walk of Willy Adames. Hinch was of course managing to win the game -- it's the playoffs, after all -- but along the way he let Cole have two final shots at strikeout No. 16.
How the Rays lost
The flipside of Cole's dominance is the failure of Tampa Bay to put an adequate number of runs on the board for the second night in a row. While one rightly hesitates to blame an offense too much for coming up short against the likes of Cole and Justin Verlander, the prevailing reality is that Rays' pitchers mostly did their jobs in Game 2.
On the night, the Rays went 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position, and speaking of runners in scoring position they didn't have one until Kiermaier's double in the eighth. Of particular note is Yandy Diaz, who struck out in the sixth with a runner on (it was ball four, and it led to a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play) and also struck out in the eighth after Cole exited and as the potential go-ahead run. Diaz was the hero of the AL WIld Card Game victory of Oakland, but in Game 2 of the ALDS he did more than anyone to harm the Rays' cause.
Highlight of the night
Let's go Rays for a moment and give a shout-out to Ji-Man Choi for his glovework on this play:
Dirty! Choi had a nice night in the field in Game 2 and also drew a crucial-at-the-time walk in the bottom of the ninth.
Game 3 goes down Monday at Tropicana Field in St. Pete with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. Zack Greinke -- somehow merely the third-best starter on the Houston staff -- goes for the Astros opposite Charlie Morton, who is coming off a strong start in the Wild Card Game.
The Rays head home down 0-2 in the series and thus on the verge of being swept. As you would expect,.
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