As Josh Reddick’s back hit the rightfield wall and Didi Gregorius’ hard and high fly ball landed safely in his glove, a potential turning point for the Yankees became just another out for Gerrit Cole and the Astros.
This one ended the fifth frame of Cole’s outing — seven shutout innings — and ended the Yankees’ last major threat in the Astros’ 4-1 win in Game 3 of the ALCS. At something less than his usual dominant self, scattering four hits and a career-high-tying five walks, Cole helped Houston to a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
But when Gregorius gave that ball a ride, Cole’s emotions went right with it.
“The emotions kind of followed the fly ball, right?” Cole said. “So it was kind of like low to freaking out to not so worried anymore.
“Initially off the bat I wasn’t worried, and then I turned around and realized where we were playing [Yankee Stadium with the short porch in right] and so I got a little worried. Reddick kind of drifted back. Usually, when he’s got a bead on it, it keeps my blood pressure down a little bit.”
It was a high-blood-pressure kind of night for Cole, who stranded nine men on base and held the Yankees to 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Three of those came in the first inning, when the Yankees loaded the bases — consecutive singles from DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge and a two-out walk from Gleyber Torres — but Gregorius grounded out to second on the first pitch he saw.
That, along with Cole escaping a two-on, two-out jam in the second, afforded the Astros’ righthanded co-ace a chance to settle in.
“It’s obviously a little frustrating we weren’t able to break through with him,” Aaron Boone said. “But I think up and down we gave ourselves a chance. And anytime you’re facing a guy like that, you want that kind of traffic. And we had that in several innings. He made big pitches when he had to.”
Added Houston manager AJ Hinch: “I actually think the beginning of the game he had a hard time finding his stuff and finding his tempo, his rhythm. He was still getting through his outing, made some really big pitches, had some pressure on him. Then once he found his curveball it was pretty lights-out. I think he finished his outing as strong as ever.”
Starting with Gregorius’ almost homer, Cole retired his final seven batters. He returned for the seventh at 102 pitches — ready to face the top of the Yankees’ lineup for a fourth time — and put down the side in order on only 10 pitches. LeMahieu had a three-pitch flyout to right, Judge a four-pitch strikeout and Brett Gardner a three-pitch lineout to center.
Cole’s postseason line: three games, 0.40 ERA, 32 strikeouts (eight walks) in 22 2/3 innings. And now he is lined up to pitch a potential Game 7 on Sunday in Houston on regular rest.
“Tonight, I was able to make pitches when I needed to,” Cole said. “And next time out I’m pretty confident I’ll be better.”