ALDS Game 2: Gerrit Cole's 15-K masterpiece gives Astros 2-0 advantage over Rays

In what will go down as one of the most dominant pitching performances in postseason history, Gerrit Cole masterfully struck out batter after batter Saturday night. Fifteen of them in total, as the Houston Astros took complete control of their American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

One after the next, Rays hitters looked overmatched by Cole and now the Rays themselves look overmatched by the Houston Astros after a Game 2 loss that puts their backs against the wall.

Powered by Cole and Alex Bregman, the Astros won 3-1 and now hold a 2-0 lead in the series. Cole pitched 7.2 scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and still hitting 99 mph as he reached pitch number 116 in the eighth inning. It was completely dominating, a testament to the challenge that any team faces when matching up with the Astros in a postseason series.

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While the series context is important here, the historical context might be more impressive.

Only two pitchers have ever struck out more hitters in a postseason game than Cole — Bob Gibson, who had 17 in 1968 and Kevin Brown, who had 16 in 1998. Four other players have notched 15 strikeouts in a postseason game: Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Sandy Koufax and Livan Hernandez.

Houston Astros starter Gerrit Cole struck out 15 Tampa Bay Rays hitters in Game 2 of the ALDS as the Astros took a 2-0 series lead. (Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Houston Astros starter Gerrit Cole struck out 15 Tampa Bay Rays hitters in Game 2 of the ALDS as the Astros took a 2-0 series lead. (Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Cole was only in trouble once, and that was when he was pulled in the eighth inning. He allowed a two-out double to Kevin Kiermaier and then walked Willy Adames. Astros manager A.J. Hinch took the ball from Cole, who left to a standing ovation by the Houston crowd.

Closer Roberto Osuna got the third out of the eighth and then came out of the ninth inning, which is when things got more interesting. The Rays loaded the bases twice in the top of the ninth inning, scoring once, but Will Harris was able to close the door for Houston.

It’s a been a tough couple of days in Houston for the Rays, who got only one hit against Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the series. He and Cole combined for 23 strikeouts in their starts. And now the Rays have the face Zack Greinke in Game 3.

WHO MADE THE DIFFERENCE

Alex Bregman: If it weren’t for Cole’s dominance, we’d be talking more the Astros’ MVP candidate. Bregman’s fourth-inning homer was a no-doubter off Blake Snell that ultimately provided enough offense for Houston. Bregman is only 25, but this is already his seventh postseason homer (that’s more than the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza). He’s a player who thrives in big moments.

Martin Maldonado: Needing a little bit of insurance in the seventh inning, Astros catcher Martin Maldonado came through with a looping single that brought home Yuli Gurriel and made the score 2-0. The Astros were in danger of blowing a second-and-third-with-no-outs situation. Maldonado was thinking bunt at one point, but after getting two strikes was forced to hit away. He dropped a single into shallow left field to give Cole and Houston some breathing room.

Carlos Correa: The Astros shortstop, who has battled injuries all season, had two hits, including an eight-inning single that made the score 3-0. He also made this impressive play at short to start the game.

MUST-SEE MOMENT

Alex Bregman? He plays loud. The MVP candidate’s fourth-inning home run into the Crawford Boxes electrified Minute Maid Park and provided another moment where his big personality could shine through the screen.

WHAT THEY’LL BE TALKING ABOUT

How Gerrit Cole is a cheat code. The free agent-to-be continued racking up strikeouts and tacking zeroes on his next contract by striking out an Astros postseason record 15 batters in Game 2. In the process, Cole induced 33 swinging strikes, which is the most by a pitcher in the postseason since MLB started tracking that stat in 2008. Cole has struck out at least 10 batters in each of his last 10 starts dating back to Aug 7. That, too, is an MLB record.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Astros will look to complete the sweep when the series shifts to Tropicana Field for Game 3 on Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Houston will send new ace Zack Greinke (18-5, 2.93) to the hill. The Rays will counter with wild-card game-winner and former Astros right-hander Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05). In his lone start against Houston this season, Morton was tagged for six runs in four innings in a game Tampa Bay lost 15-1

Yahoo Sports’ Mark Townsend contributed to this story.

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Mike Oz is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @mikeoz

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