HOUSTON – Gerrit Cole pitched another playoff masterpiece and the Houston Astros jumped to a quick lead, turning back the Tampa Bay Rays 6-1 Thursday night in Game 5 to set up a titanic showdown with the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
After fellow aces Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander were unable to close out the scrappy Rays on the road, Cole made sure Houston moved on. Given a four-run cushion in the first inning, he dominated through the eighth inning in the decisive game of the AL Division Series, striking out 10 and giving up only two hits.
On deck, the heavyweight matchup so many fans wanted to see: Jose Altuve and the 107-win Astros against Aaron Judge and the 103-win Yankees. Game 1 is Saturday night in Houston — the Astros won four of seven meetings this season.
Michael Brantley and Altuve put the finishing touches on this victory, hitting back-to-back home runs in the eighth. The Astros advanced to their third consecutive ALCS, and are aiming for their second World Series crown in that span.
The Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game, then took the last two against the Astros to extend their first playoff run since 2013.
But facing Cole, they were in trouble — especially after Altuve, Alex Bregman and the Astros scored four times in the first against Tyler Glasnow.
Cole had a 15-strikeout gem in a Game 2 victory and followed that with another overpowering effort. He improved to 18-0 in his past 24 starts.
Cole topped the majors with 326 strikeouts this season, led the AL with a 2.50 ERA and posted 20 victories, one behind Verlander for most in the big leagues.
The 29-year-old struck out the first two batters in the eighth before Willy Adames grounded out to end Cole’s night. He beat his chest once before walking to the dugout to a huge ovation.