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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Mattress Mack and the Astros host Pearland Little League at Wednesday night's game. Photo by LittleLeague.org

Sure, it’s impressive that the Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting Aug. 17 in South Williamsport, PA.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a 5-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70-mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record was Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. Born in the U.S.A. came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing. The executive asked why not? Well, you might want to listen to the words. Born in the U.S.A. is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly Yankee Doodle Dandy. You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year). The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is considered a slur for Asians).

Later I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA. I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

Play Centerfield by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

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