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Astros eke out Game 2 victory, 3-1, take 2-0 lead over Rays in ALDS

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Cole strikes out 15, sets records in dominant performance

Divisional Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros - Game Two Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Yesterday the Tampa Bay Rays got Verlander’d, according to manager Kevin Cash. Wonder what he’ll say to describe tonight’s starter for the Houston Astros?

Probably something like, Gerrit is about to make some Cole’d hard cash.

Cole struck out 15 across 7 23 shutout innings in one of the most dominant postseason performances in franchise history—nay, all-time—to push the Astros to a 2-0 lead in their ALDS matchup against the Rays.

Cole did it against a lineup that demonstrated success against him in previous matchups. Rays’ batters in the Game 2 lineup were hitting a combined .305 (18-for-59) against Cole entering tonight. Whatever, all of that is in the past and completely meaningless with the way Cole is going right now.

Let’s start with all the records Cole set Saturday night.

New franchise mark for strikeouts in a postseason game?

Where does that rank all-time in a playoff game?

Wait, you’ve done something like this before?

Ok, well you’re the first to ever do something like that twice.

I don’t have a tweet for this one, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Cole became the fourth pitcher with 15 strikeouts and no runs allowed in a postseason game, and the first since Roger Clemens in 2000.

The Astros needed every bit of Cole’s dominance against a pesky Tampa Bay bunch.

Carlos Correa started the night with a thriller, robbing Yandy Diaz of a surefire single and uncorking a throw from somewhere in the vicinity of the Crawford Boxes to keep the Rays’ leadoff batter from reaching.

Despite allowing a two-out single to Tommy Pham later in the inning, Cole struck out two in what would be a recurring theme all night.

After a quick first inning for Blake Snell, Cole came began his evisceration of the Rays. He made Avisail Garcia look silly on a slider for the first out of the second inning. Cole did the same thing to Brandon Lowe, who had a check-swing strikeout on a breaking ball in the dirt.

Cole struck out the side on just 10 pitches in the second inning and had five strikeouts through the first seven Tampa Bay batters.

He tossed another perfect inning in the third, including his eighth strikeout of Willy Adames in 11 career at-bats. For all the brilliance Justin Verlander displayed Friday afternoon, Cole took it up a notch or two.

We saw more of the same in a 1-2-3 fourth inning for Cole, including his seventh strikeout of the night, courtesy of Ji-Man Choi.

The Astros got on the board in the bottom half of the fourth inning, just as they did the day before. Alex Bregman fought back from an 0-2 count to deposit his seventh career postseason home run into the seats and put the game’s first run on the board.

The legion of pitchers on Bregman’s postseason resume is stocked full of studs.

Snell got Yordan Alvarez to strike out swinging before his night came to an end. Snell, making just his fourth appearance since missing about two months with bone spurs in his elbow, tossed 3 13 innings and allowed one run on four hits with five strikeouts. Diego Castillo came on in relief and retired the next two batters to end the inning.

Cole struck out two more batters in the fifth before Travis d’Arnaud hit a single up the middle for the Rays’ second baserunner. Cole responded by embarrassing Kevin Kiermaier on a ball in the dirt for his tenth strikeout of the game through just five innings. That made it ten straight starts of double-digit strikeouts for Cole.

Kyle Tucker drew a leadoff walk to start the fifth and advanced to third when Martin Maldonado ripped a single down the leftfield line. It should’ve been a run-scoring extra-base hit but the ballboy couldn’t move his chair out of the way in time and Maldanado’s hit caromed directly to the leftfielder instead of going into the corner.

The unfortunate bounce—as it always seems to do for Houston, especially in the playoffs—prevented the Astros from expanding the lead, even with the top of the order due up. George Springer struck out on three pitches and Jose Altuve hit into an inning-ending double play to keep it a one-run game after five.

The Rays were poised to threaten in the sixth when Adames knocked the first hit of his career off Cole. A swinging strikeout of Diaz on what would’ve been Ball 4 was made even better when Adames was easily thrown out trying to swipe second to eradicate the threat.

Cole started the seventh inning with two more strikeouts, the second of which was 100 miles-per-hour past Choi for the third time.

Oh yeah, Cole also set more history in the process.

Yuli Gurriel reached base on a wild throw from Adames to lead off the bottom of seventh and Carlos Correa came through with a big double to put two runners in scoring position with no outs. Martin Maldonado made his night excellent both behind and at the plate with a single to push across the Astros’ second run of the night and provide much-needed insurance.

Cole struck out two more batters in the eighth to become the seventh pitcher in MLB history with 15 strikeouts in a postseason game. After a two-out double to Kiermaier and walk to Adames, however, Cole’s magnificent night came to an end. His final line: 7 23 innings, four hits, one walk, no runs, and 15 strikeouts on 118 pitches—a career-high.

The Astros summoned closer Roberto Osuna with Diaz—who homered twice in the AL Wild Card Game Wednesday night—at the plate and representing the go-ahead run. Osuna threw three filthy pitches to strike out Diaz swinging.

Correa had another clutch hit in the eighth, scoring Bregman with an RBI single to put the Astros ahead 3-0 with just three outs to go.

The problem, however, was Osuna was asked to acquire his first four-out save of the season. A leadoff single for Meadows and back-to-back walks quickly loaded the bases and brought the go-ahead run to the plate for the Rays. Osuna induced a grounder from Garcia that scored a run but wasn’t hit quite hard enough to result in a double play. After another walk loaded the bases again, A.J. Hinch pulled the cord on Osuna.

Yet again, Hinch made the right call.

Will Harris struck out d’Arnaud and retired Kiermaier on a groundout to Gurriel to preserve the Astros 3-1 victory.

The Astros will head to St. Petersburg one win away from advancing to the American League Championship for the third time in as many seasons.

Box score and videos here.

Zack Greinke (8-1, 3.02 with Houston; 18-5, 2.93 overall) will get the start in Game 3 for the Astros. Greinke nearly tossed the first no-hitter of his career in his final start of the regular season. He went into the ninth with no hits allowed and faced the minimum against Seattle, but a one-out single put an end to the no-hit bid. In all, Greinke went 8 13 innings, didn’t permit any runs, and logged nine strikeouts, a personal-best since joining the Astros. He didn’t record a decision in his lone start against the Rays this season and allowed five runs on six hits with eight strikeouts in 5 23 innings. For his career, Greinke is 4-6 with a 3.36 ERA in 14 starts against Tampa Bay, including an 0-4 mark with 4.45 ERA across 32 1/3 innings in six lifetime appearances (five starts) at Tropicana Field. Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05) will try to keep the Rays’ season alive in Game 3 for the Rays. Morton got the win for Tampa Bay in the AL Wild Card Game, going five innings and striking out four in a 5-1 victory over the A’s. The Astro legend has faced his former club twice this season, going 1-1- with an 8.00 ERA. First pitch for Game 1 will be Monday afternoon at 12:05 CT. The game will air on MLB Network.