(Reuters) – Houston Astros ace Gerrit Cole shut down the Washington Nationals and gave his team control of the World Series in such impressive fashion on Sunday that he even managed to stump himself with the achievement.
After dominating the Nationals with devastating speed and elusive movement on his pitches during Houston’s 7-1 win, Cole was told that he has now tied an American League playoff record with 47 total strikeouts.
“I didn’t know that,” Cole told reporters before a long pause. “That’s pretty special. Yeah, that’s all I’ve got.”
Washington did not have an answer for Cole either as he returned to the form that made him baseball’s most dangerous pitcher this year and gave Houston the 3-2 best-of-seven series advantage.
Cole logged seven innings and 110 pitches while allowing just one run and striking out nine. The significance of the performance, though, went well beyond numbers. Cole and the Astros had appeared out of character early in this series when he lost the opener by surrendering five runs, and Houston ultimately dropped the first two games. The ace’s return to the mound, and to form, crystallized Houston’s resurgence as they again look like the favorites and have won three straight to move within a victory of the title. “What he did tonight, the feel for the game the importance of this game; he provided the intensity that’s needed in a 2-2 series to get it to 3-2,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s very similar to how he pitched the whole season.” Cole, 29, put together a career season that included a 20-5 record, the best earned run average in the AL at 2.50 and the most strikeouts in the Majors with 326.
He will be a free agent at the end of this season and will undoubtedly have suitors lined up to try to land his high-velocity pitches.
This post-season has gone a long way to stamp his arrival as a force. Cole was in true command in winning his first three playoff games before the hiccup in Game One against Washington.
Cole more than made amends with his Game Five performance.
“I thought I executed really well tonight,” Cole said. “The stuff was much crisper. I made a lot of good pitches; we counted (only) three mistakes. (I was) living on corners all night and making a lot of quality pitches. That kept a lot of pressure on them, I thought.” The Astros have a renewed confidence as fellow standout pitcher Justin Verlander takes the mound for Game Six on Tuesday in Houston. “This team is special,” Astros reliever Joe Smith said. “We don’t really lose when (Verlander) and Gerrit are on the (mound).”
(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Richard Borsuk)