Gerrit Cole is about as good of a trump card as a team can have in the 2019 MLB playoffs, and the Astros have it.
But Houston isn't going into the winner-take-all Game 5 taking the Rays lightly, even with the Cy Young contender on the mound. They are confident, but they know Tampa Bay will bring everything it has.
“They've played calm, cool and collected,” Cole said, via MLB.com. “We know they're a good team. We've known for a long time. To win that many games in the American League East, without Blake Snell for most of the year, without Tyler Glasnow for most of the year, maybe a couple other guys, is really impressive and now they're here at full strength. So it's been a good battle so far, and it will continue on (Thursday).”
The Astros won the first two games of the series on two splendid pitching performances from Cole and Justin Verlander. In Cole's start, the righty struck out 15 batters while allowing zero runs in 7 2/3 innings of work. A performance like that is bound to instill confidence going into the deciding game of the series.
“He’s an ace,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “We look forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re going to be fired up and looking to play as well as we can behind him.”
The Rays will counter with Glasnow in Game 5 who allowed two runs in 4 1/3 innings of work in Game 1 on Friday. He tossed four shutout innings before allowing a two-run homer to Jose Altuve in the bottom of the fifth which got the Astros going.
In Game 4, the Rays got a victory by pitching no one more than 2 1/3 innings. Houston struggled this season when opponents went with bullpen games and Tampa Bay may very well decide to do something similar in Game 5, possibly using Snell and Charlie Morton in relief in what could be the final game of its season.
MORE: Astros' Justin Verlander blames rough Game 4 outing on 'bad slider,' not short rest | Three takeaways from Rays' Game 4 victory against Astros | Three takeaways from Astros' nerve-wracking ALDS Game 2 win over Rays
But the Astros still have Cole. The man who went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA with 326 strikeouts in 212 1/3 innings this season. He is 17-0 with a 1.69 ERA in his last 23 starts (including postseason). Houston knows the Rays will absolutely challenge it, but those numbers give the team at least a little bit of peace.
“I love that we're here,” manager AJ Hinch said. “And the way we got here is nerve-wracking just because you don't want to get to a Game 5. We fought all year to have a better record and to win our division to get this particular game at home. And they've got to come into our house and beat us again. With Cole on the mound, I don't know who could be more confident than us.”