Astros take 2-1 lead over Yankees in ALCS
NEW YORK — Gerrit Cole is making his pitch to own this October.
A gritty Cole held the New York Yankees scoreless without his sharpest stuff, Jose Altuve sparked Houston at the plate and the Astros locked down a 4-1 victory Tuesday to take a 2-1 lead in the AL Championship Series.
Altuve and Josh Reddick homered early off Luis Severino, who labored into the fifth while keeping the Yankees close. But they never broke through against Cole, who grinded through seven innings to win his 19th straight decision despite walking five batters for the second time in his career.
“Just boiled down to making some good pitches under pressure,” he said.
Cole escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first and stranded nine runners through five, improving to 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA in three playoff outings this year. Poised to become a prized free agent who could command more than $200 million, he’s putting together a dominant run that’s beginning to rival some of baseball’s greatest postseason pitching performances.
The 29-year-old right-hander, unbeaten in 25 starts since late May, allowed four hits and struck out seven. That ended a streak of 11 consecutive games with double-digit strikeouts — the previous big league record was eight. Cole led the majors with 326 Ks this season.
“I think he’s the best pitcher in baseball right now,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “Gerrit is locked in. And to see him do it on the big stage in a playoff game with the magnitude of this game, it was pretty awesome.”
Game 4 in the best-of-seven playoff is scheduled for Wednesday night — but that could change. The gloomy weather forecast calls for a substantial rainstorm, potentially forcing a postponement that would likely alter pitching plans for both teams.
Gleyber Torres homered in the eighth off Houston reliever Joe Smith, one batter after replay umpires reversed a call and ruled Edwin Encarnacion out at first base. That led to a little trash and a ball being thrown onto the field before public address announcer Paul Olden reminded fans not to toss any objects out of the stands.
Roberto Osuna got three quick outs in the ninth for a save.
“Two more to go,” Osuna said. “I’m excited.”
Cole grew up in California rooting for the Yankees and was drafted by them 28th overall in 2008. He didn’t sign, choosing instead to attend UCLA before the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him with the top pick in 2011.
Making his second career start at Yankee Stadium, he got away with several pitches in key situations and, other times, flashed the filthy breaking balls and 98-100 mph heat that have made him so unhittable in October — and unbeatable since May.
His winning streak is the longest by a pitcher in one year since Rube Marquard began 19-0 for the 1912 New York Giants.
“He’s exceptional. And he gets better and better and better,” Hinch said about Cole. “Once he found his curveball, it was pretty lights out. I think he finished his outing as strong as ever.”
After rolling to a 7-0 victory in the series opener, the Yankees — the highest-scoring team in the majors this season — have totaled three runs on two homers in the last 20 innings.