HOUSTON -- Houston Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole continued the game of "anything you can do, I can do at least as well" he's played with teammate Justin Verlander this season on Saturday. Cole overpowered the Tampa Bay Rays over 7 2/3 shutout innings, striking out 15 in Game 2 of the American League Division Series.
Reliever Will Harris got the final two outs as the Astros held on for a 3-1 victory. Harris bailed out closer Roberto Osuna, who departed with the bases loaded and one out, but Harris made sure the spotlight remained on Cole's dazzling performance.
Cole's strikeout total is tied for third on the all-time postseason list and fell just two short of the record set by St. Louis Cardinals legend Bob Gibson, who fanned 17 Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series. It broke Houston's franchise mark for a playoff game (14), established by Mike Scott in Game 1 of the 1986 National League Championship Series against the New York Mets.
"That's an easy one to brag about, because he was incredible," manager A.J. Hinch gushed. "He had complete command of the entire game; he lasted very deep into the game. He was strong at the end. He got punchouts on virtually every pitch."
Houston led 2-0 when Cole departed after throwing 118 pitches. He held the Rays to just four hits and walked one batter -- Willy Adames, the final one he faced. Cole's strikeout total surpassed the 12 K's he piled up in Game 2 of Houston's 2018 ALDS matchup with Cleveland, his previous postseason best. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Cole now has two of the top five strikeout games in Astros postseason history.
The Rays scraped together three singles off Cole, one each in the first, fifth and sixth, and got a double from Kevin Kiermaier in the eighth. They otherwise did not advance a runner past first base while the right-hander was on the mound. With the walk to Adames, Cole just missed breaking the MLB mark for strikeouts without a walk in a playoff game, a record set by Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, who had 13 K's without a walk for the Mets against the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the 1973 NLCS.
Cole deflected praise after the game, but did acknowledge the thrill over the thunderous ovation he received as he left the mound at Minute Maid Park during the eighth inning.
"It's the reason why we played 162 [games] and tried to win as many as we could, because we wanted to play in front of these fans," Cole said. "The ovation was pretty special. They were standing at the first strikeout of the game, like three hours before that."
Cole's gem followed a similarly dominant outing from Verlander in Game 1 during a 6-2 Houston win. Verlander struck out eight and held the Rays to one hit and zero runs over seven innings and passed Roger Clemens for third on the all-time postseason strikeout list.
During two games with Houston's co-Cy Young Award front-runners on the mound, the Rays have managed just five hits over 14 2/3 scoreless innings with 23 strikeouts.
Cole, 29, went 20-5 during the regular season with an AL-best 2.50 ERA. His 326 strikeouts also led the league and were the most by a pitcher in a season since Randy Johnson struck out 334 in 2002.
Things won't get much easier for Tampa Bay in Game 3 on Monday, when the series moves to Tropicana Field. Houston will send former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke to the mound. The Rays will counter with former Astros pitcher Charlie Morton.
When asked what his message would be to his team as it departs Houston, Rays manager Kevin Cash suggested that this time of year, the message is pretty simple, especially when your team is facing a third straight ace in a win-or-go-home game.
"Get some sleep, first and foremost," Cash said. "Get on the plane and get home. These guys do a good job of controlling the situation. I don't think there's a real message. They know what's at stake."