Culture / Sporting Life

Inside Gerrit Cole’s Historic Aftermath — Osuna Text, Wife Twitter Love and a Hallway Hall of Famer

Otherworldly Pitching Performance Makes This Astros October Look Magical Already

BY // 10.06.19

Waiting to do a TV interview in a crowded underground hallway in Minute Maid Park, Gerrit Cole looks like he could be in the checkout line at the grocery store. Who said striking out 15 in a playoff game was glamorous?

Even one of the most dominant pitching performances of all time brings obligations.

When Craig Biggio spots Cole waiting, he ducks low below the FS1 camera, and goes in for a Hall of Fame handshake. That brings a big smile out of the strikeout hoarder who refused to let the Tampa Bay Rays have hope. Cole and Biggio share a knowing nod — and then it’s time for Cole’s post greatness to resume.

Biggio knows better than most how a pitcher like Cole can squeeze the life out of even the best lineups. The Astros Hall of Famer experienced it first hand against Kevin Brown in another division series game that feels like a lifetime ago to Houston’s now spoiled baseball fans.

There are great starts — and then there’s the type of start Gerrit Cole pulls off in this Saturday night at Minute Maid Park. Otherworldly. Transcendent. Historic.

Pick your word, they all apply. On a night that ends in a white-knuckled 3-1 Astros win, a night that ends with Astros manager A.J. Hinch texting closer Roberto Osuna his support, Cole’s greatness is the story that will live on long after this October is done.

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Only two men have ever struck out more than 15 batters in a postseason game — Bob Gibson (17 in 1968) and Kevin Brown (16 in 1998 against those Biggio and Bagwell Astros).

“Amazing,” Astros catcher Martin Maldonado says afterwards. “Unbelievable. He executed every pitch.”

Cole would throw 118 of them, hitting 100 MPH on the radar gun on No. 115. That’s not just dominant. That’s Britain taking on Argentina in the Falklands War unfair.

“I’ve been doing it since I was 17,” Cole says of being able to summon such super velocity late in an outing. To Cole, it’s just what he does. To everyone else in baseball, it’s freaky.

“I can tell when I catch it,” Maldonado grins when someone asks if he looks at the scoreboard to see how fast Cole is throwing in the eighth inning.

The Rays — a 96-win team in the power packed American League East — rack up 33 swinging misses against Cole. That’s just silly stuff.

Sorry Kevin Cash. It turns out that being Coled is arguably even worst than being Verlandered.

It’s beginning to look a lot like a special Astros October.

Still, afterwards, Cole himself largely seems to want to talk about his catcher Maldonado and the Astros’ defense. About how Carlos Correa started the game off with an incredible bit of wizardry at shortstop. About how Osuna and Will Harris picked him up.

Of course, there are some Astros fans obsessing about how Osuna loads the bases with one out in the ninth. How Harris needs to be called in to rescue the Astros closer.

Finishing playoff games is not for the meek. But after that text from Hinch, another deft move from a manager who always seems to know what his guys needs, Osuna hardly seems shaken.

“He was very kind,” Osuna says of Hinch’s message. “He always show me his support. That means a lot to me.”

This is the understory of one of Major League Baseball’s most masterful pitching performances ever. No-hitters sometimes can be a little fluky, born of circumstance. But there is nothing fluky about 15 strikeouts in a playoff game.

“He seems to outdo himself each and every time out there,” Harris says. “Which seems impossible.”

Cole Trained

Cole is so dominant that he brings back visions of Mike Scott’s legendary 14-strikeout playoff game for the Astros. Scott’s bit of mastery in Game 1 of the 1986 National League Championship Series against the Mets is one of the great postseason pitching performances ever.

Now, Gerrit Cole’s entered that conversation.

Cole’s 15 strikeouts in a playoff game put him alongside legends like Sandy Koufax and Roger Clemens.

“Seriously, he’s got the best stuff in baseball,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman says of Cole. When this October ends, Cole will become the most coveted free agent in all of baseball. He could very well become the highest-paid pitcher in baseball, too. But first, he wants to win a World Series with his friends.

Guys like Maldonado, a 33-year-old journeyman who’s played for five teams in nine seasons, including three in 2019 alone. Maldonado’s become Cole’s catcher — and he does plenty to make sure the pitcher’s greatness is not wasted on this night.

Maldonado only managed two hits the entire 2018 postseason (a span of 19 at-bats) as an Astro. He gets two just on Saturday night — in his first playoff start of 2019 to help make sure the Astros take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

It’s beginning to look a lot like a special Astros October.

The Pinstriped Truths

The Yankees loom in a potential 2017 American League Championship Series rematch — and the Bronx is anything but burning at the moment. Aaron Judge and Co. have outscored the Twins 18-6 in their own fast playoff start, threatening to make quick work of the AL’s third 100-plus win team.

It’d be good for the Astros to be just as ruthlessly efficient in their own opening series.

Cole makes sure that’s on track.

Shortly after “Welcome to the Jungle!” blares as the orange-towel-waving crowd stuffed into Minute Maid roars, after University of Houston basketball coach Kelvin Sampson gives the “Play ball!” shoutout, Correa opens things with a bit of magic. First batter of the game, Yandy Diaz, sends a shot screaming into the hole.

It should be a hit. But Correa doesn’t believe in shoulds.

He races into the grass, snags the ball in his glove and somehow fires a bullet while turning from the grass that beats Diaz to first. It’s one of more spectacular defensive plays you’ll ever see a shortstop make.

Welcome to Game 2!

Diaz goes back to the dugout, shaking his head, still unsure how he recorded an out. The Rays never hit a ball that hard off Cole again.

It’s beginning to look a lot like a special Astros October.

The 29-year-old Cole was projected for dominance every since the Pirates drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, but coming to a team as smartly run as the Astros pushed him to another level. In this clubhouse, he has sounding boards for greatness.

And on one special Saturday night in October, Cole is the only one giving the lessons. He mixes in his slider and curveball with all that heat, strikes out every Rays hitter in the lineup. He strikes out Ji-Man Choi and Brandon Lowe three times each.

The Joker is more forgiving.

After it’s over and Cole leaves to a standing ovation from a delirious orange towel waving crowd, his wife Amy Cole tweets out a video of the scene with the simplest caption. “No words.”

Sounds about right.

It’s beginning to look a lot like a special Astros October.

Gerrit Cole, the man who made it happen, the most coveted pitcher in all of baseball, finishes his interview in the hall and waits outside the door of the press conference room for another. It’s time to explain greatness, but there is no need for him to try to hold on tight to this October night.

It won’t ever be forgotten.

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