Gerrit Cole went on a dominant roll for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Gerrit Cole wrapped closer Roberto Osuna in the bear hug of bear hugs after the ALDS win over Tampa Bay. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros owner Jim Crane and Gerrit Cole shared a moment after another dominant gem from the free agent to be. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros ace Gerrit Cole is on one of the greatest postseason runs of all time. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Gerrit Cole got some air time on his dugout leap after the Astros won Game 5 vs. Tampa. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Gerrit Cole is a looming force for the Houston Astros' Dream Team. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros pitcher Gerrit & Amy Cole (Photo by Todd Parker, STP Images)
The Astros are one of the most tight-knit teams in baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Astros ace Gerrit Cole is the most coveted free agent in all of baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Astros ace Gerrit Cole has the big game stare down. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
WASHINGTON D.C. — Sitting in the bullpen, in a stadium the Houston Astros made their own, Joe Smith nudges a buddy and lets his wonder be known. “I told Will Harris tonight, ‘Man, I love watching this guy pitch,’ ” Smith says. “He’s so much fun, especially when he’s on your team.
“He’s always aggressive. And every pitch has a purpose.”
This guy is The Guy of course, one Gerrit Cole. When your peers are marveling over you in the middle of a World Series game, you’ve reached a rare higher plane.
Cole’s become a bonafide phenomenon in Houston, the pitcher even other pitchers’ gawk over, and if this Game 5 is his Astros’ goodbye, it is finish worthy of Secretariat. There is a very good chance Gerrit Cole just pitched his last game in a Houston uniform, but he’ll always be an important Astro.
It does not matter if it is only two seasons when the two seasons are this transformative.
Either the Angels, the Dodgers or the Yankees will likely sign Cole to a $200 million-plus contract this winter in free agency. But Astros fans will still remember Cole fondly forever if that happens.
For Cole gave everything he had — and the best of himself — in an incredible run in H-Town. There he is in Game 5 of the World Series, throwing 99 MPH on his 101st pitch of the night, never letting the shellshocked Washington Nationals find hope no matter how much their fans yell and plead.
It is only fitting that Cole pushes the Astros within one win of their second World Series championship in three seasons. Cole was not there for the first. But he’s been here for so many important moments since.
“I feel like he’s been here forever,” Astros outfielder George Springer says. “The way he gets along with all of us in the clubhouse, the way he came in and bought into us as a team, how our team likes to play the game. He’s extremely fun in the clubhouse.
“I honestly feel like he’s been here for five, six years.”
Many players who last five or six years with a team do not have leave the mark that Cole already has in Houston. His latest moment is the total command he shows in the 7-1 Game 5 win that completes the Astros’ 19-3 combined utter destruction of the Washington Nationals in three straight road wins in D.C.
For the fourth time this postseason, Cole throws at least seven innings and gives up a run or less. He’s now struck out 47 batters this October, the second most strikeouts any pitcher’s every racked up in any postseason run ever.
Freddy Krueger was less destructive to other people’s dreams. The Astros are one home win away from becoming baseball’s first real dynasty since the legendary 1996 through 2000 Yankees in no small part due to the ace who wasn’t around for the magic of 2017.
“Gerrit Cole is amazing,” Jose Altuve says.
And a great Astro no matter what happens in free agency. Those of you holding out hope that Houston will re-sign Cole probably need a lesson in baseball economics. Perhaps, you’re forgetting how pragmatic Astros owner Jim Crane, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and Scott Boras, Cole’s agent, all are.
This will not be a decision based on emotion on either side.
If Cole is getting sprayed with champagne and puffing on one of his vintage cigars in a squishy carpet Astros clubhouse on Tuesday or Wednesday night, he will have made himself a champion. Then, he’ll let Boras go get him a record amount of money.
He’s earned it. And his impact in Houston will carry on even if he’s throwing 100 MPH strikes for the Angels in the seventh inning next season.
Just imagine what it must be like to be a young pitcher in the Astros clubhouse, a Jose Urquidy or a Josh James, getting to watch Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander go about their work.
“I’ve listened to Cole and Verlander talk about pitching so many times,” James tells PaperCity. “I’m always just trying to listen in when they’re talking to each other. You pick up little things. Just how they approach things.”
Donald Trump and Quiet Goodbyes
This Sunday night of baseball in the nation’s capital will include a big presidential appearance. Nationals fans will largely overwhelmingly boo Donald Trump when he’s shown on the giant scoreboard. They’ll boo the umpires even louder later (and to be fair, the strike zone for Game 5 gets awfully creative on both sides).
But by the time the night is done — with Trump and the uniformed Secret Service police wearing the bulky vests (not to be confused with the plain clothes Secret Service agents sprinkled in the crowd) long since gone — a more quiet business takes place. As the Astros talk to the media, a young clubhouse attendant goes around the clubhouse and removes their name plates from above the lockers, one by one.
These Astros have shut down Nationals Park in a way few World Series road teams have ever shut down an opponent’s stadium. The Nats might request that those nameplates be burned. Because seemingly every one of those names did some serious damage to this World Series “party” Washington waited 86 years to throw.
“It seems like it’s been different guys every day,” Altuve says of the Astros’ D.C. onslaught. “That’s what makes this team. It’s 25 guys doing this. Every night, someone else is doing something big.”
On this night, Rookie of the Year to be Yordan Alvarez hits his first home run of the playoffs and it’s one of his patented no doubt monster blasts that leaves the entire Astros dugout giddy. In fact, Verlander and catcher Robinson Chirinos jump up and down and high five each other with such enthusiasm as Alvarez’s blast bounces off a fan’s chest that they could be mistaken for members of a boy band.
The Astros vets love Yordan — and the entire franchise’s been almost waiting all October for this moment.
Of course, everyone should expect George Springer to homer in a World Series game by now. And he does it again to finish the scoring. This is Springer’s 15th postseason home run since 2015, a monumental run. If Springer homers, well Carlos Correa will, too.
Of course, just one of those three Astros home runs would have been enough to win with Cole pitching like this.
He keeps the ball after Astros manager A.J. Hinch comes out to talk to him in the bottom of the seventh because neither man can imagine him giving it up. Gerrit Cole will finish the inning, essentially finish off the Nationals’ last real chance, and maybe all but finish his run in Houston.
“That’s pretty neat,” Cole says when asked about his postseason strikeout milestones. “That’s pretty special. That’s all I got.”
With that, Gerrit Cole is soon leaving the interview room and heading back down the hall to the visitors clubhouse, to rejoin the best team he’ll ever be a part of. A 12:30 am bus to the airport and an overnight flight back to Houston beckon.
What a ride it’s already been. Gerrit Cole is going places. But he’ll still be an Astros legend no matter what happens a few months from now.