Gerrit Cole’s 100 mph fastball and devastating breaking ball stymied the Rays lineup in Game 2 on Saturday as the Astros right-hander had a historic night.
Cole left the game with two outs in the eighth inning, but not before setting a new franchise record by striking out 15 Rays in a historic display of pitching dominance. Cole surrendered just four hits and allowed one Rays baserunner to reach second as the Astros held off a ninth-inning rally to beat Tampa Bay 3-1 at Minute Maid Park.
Houston leads the series 2-0 thanks largely to the performance of their two pitching aces. Cole’s performance comes after Verlander gave up just one hit in seven innings on Friday. They’re the third pair of teammates to each go at least seven innings of shutout ball while striking out at least eight batters in back-to-back playoff games, joining John Smoltz and Steve Avery of the 1991 Braves and Dick Rudolph and Bill James of the 1914 Braves.
Cole is the seventh pitcher in history with 15 strikeouts in a playoff game; only Kevin Brown in 1998 and Bob Gibson in 1968 had more. He’s the first to do it without giving up a run since Roger Clemens in 2000. He generated 33 swings and misses from Rays hitters, the most by a pitcher in the playoffs since at least 2008.
That Cole would have such a performance should come as no surprise, not after the year he’s had. He led the American League with a 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts, the most by a right-hander since Nolan Ryan in 1977. Ryan, a member of the Astros front office, literally had a front-row seat to witness Cole’s night.
Cole struck out 13.82 batters per nine innings, the highest rate of any starting pitcher in history. Cole ended the regular season on a run of striking out at least 10 batters in his last nine starts, the longest streak ever. And, earlier in September, he became only the second pitcher in history to strike out at least 14 in three straight starts.
Cole threw 118 pitches on Saturday, the most he’s ever thrown in his career. He struck out at least two batters in five of the eight innings he pitched and was still hitting 100 m.p.h. on his fastball right down to his final pitches.
It doesn’t get any easier for Tampa Bay. After facing Verlander and Cole in Houston, they have to match up with Zack Greinke in Game 3 and the possibility that this will be a short series.