Gerrit Cole throws a masterful start to lift Astros over Rays

Astros playoff report presented by APG&E: Astros now lead ALDS 2-0 after 3-1 win over Rays

Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

After doing so much of the regular season, Gerrit Cole once again played his part in "whatever you can do, I can do better" in the friendly competition between Justin Verlander. Cole's dominant night on the mound, with a couple of runs behind him, lifted the Astros over the Rays to take a 2-0 advantage in the ALDS before the series shifts to Tropicana Field. Here is our recap of the game:

Final Score: Astros 3, Rays 1.

Series: HOU leads 2-0.

Winning Pitcher: Gerrit Cole.

Losing Pitcher: Blake Snell.

Cole and Snell duel early, but Bregman comes out on top

Like Verlander and Glasnow in Game 1, both the Astros and Rays had trouble with the opposing starter through the first few innings in Game 2. Gerrit Cole and Blake Snell finished the first three innings of the game scoreless, with Cole allowing just one hit and Snell three.

Alex Bregman was able to break the scoreless tie in the bottom of the fourth, leading off the inning by winning a seven-pitch battle against Snell with a solo home run to put Houston ahead 1-0. Snell would face one more batter before being pulled after 3.1 innings and starting the night for Tampa Bay's bullpen.

Gerrit Cole doing Gerrit Cole things

While Snell had his night come to a close early, Cole was putting together another incredibly dominant outing on the mound. He allowed just one hit over the first four innings before getting the 1-0 lead off of Bregman's home run, then held on to the one-run lead with inning after inning of incredible pitching.

He would later get another run behind him and came to the mound for the top of the eighth with a 2-0 lead. Cole would get two outs into that inning before two baserunners and his pitch count would prompt A.J. Hinch to make a move to closer Roberto Osuna. When it was all said and done, Cole had finished seven and two-thirds shutout innings with 15 strikeouts, a new franchise record in a postseason game. His final line: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 15K.

Osuna makes it stressful, but Houston takes 2-0 series lead

After coming up disappointingly empty after putting runners on first and third with no outs in the fifth inning, the Astros received another chance in the bottom of the seventh. An error put Yuli Gurriel on first to lead off the inning, and then he moved to third on a double by Carlos Correa. After an out, Martin Maldonado came through with an RBI-single blooped into the outfield to extend the lead to 2-0.

With Cole's terrific night coming to an end two outs into the eighth inning, Houston looked to Roberto Osuna to get a four-out save. He got a three-pitch strikeout to end the top of the eighth, erasing the two runners put on by Cole. In the bottom of the eighth, the Astros added one more insurance run on an RBI-single by Carlos Correa, extending the lead to 3-0.

Roberto Osuna then returned in the ninth to finish the save. He would be unsuccessful, loading the bases with no outs after two singles and a walk to start the inning. An RBI-groundout cut the lead to 3-1 and left runners on the corners with one out before Osuna would walk the bases loaded again. That would do it for Osuna, with Will Harris coming in to replace him to try and get the final two outs.

Harris would control the situation well, striking out his first batter then getting a groundout to finish the game. The win put the Astros up 2-0 in the series, needing just one win out of the next three games to advance to the ALCS for the third straight season.

Up Next: Houston and Tampa Bay will have a day off Sunday to travel to St. Petersburg for ALDS Game 3 on Monday. The game will get underway at 12:05 PM Central, and the expected pitching matchup is Zack Greinke (18-5, 2.93 ERA in the regular season) for the Astros going against former-Astro Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA in the regular season) for the Rays.

The Astros playoff report is presented by APG&E.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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