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 4-0 cushion in the first inning, he dominated through the eighth, striking out 10 and allowing just 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.
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 straight ALCS, and are aiming for their second World Series crown in that span.
Houston beat the Yankees in a seven-game ALCS on the way to its first championship in 2017. The Astros also won the 2015 AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.
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 followed his 15-strikeout gem in a Game 2 win with another overpowering effort. The right-hander, who grew up a Yankees fan and was originally drafted by them but didn't sign, improved to 18-0 in his last 24 starts.
Cole topped the majors with 326 strikeouts this season, led the AL with a 2.50 ERA and posted 20 wins, 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 from the rowdy sellout crowd of 43,418 at Minute Maid Park.
After winning an MLB-best and franchise-record 107 games in the regular season, the Astros were determined not to suffer the same fate as the Dodgers, winners of 106 games, who were ousted from the playoffs by the wild-card Nationals on Wednesday night.