COPY-AND-PASTE STAFF

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - ALDS GAME 2 - jerome.solomon@chron.com twit­ter.com/jeromesolomon

Ger­rit Cole has a per­fect de­scrip­tion of the in­ten­sity and pres­sure in­volved in the nerve-wrack­ing MLB play­offs.

He calls them “height­ened-adren­a­line” sit­u­a­tions. He says the process and prepa­ra­tion for post­sea­son starts are the same as for reg­u­lar-sea­son ones, but the mind knows those aren’t reg­u­lar games, and the body re­acts ac­cord­ingly.

Some play­ers fall apart. Some thrive. On Sat­ur­day, Cole made it clear to the Astros he is among the lat­ter group.

The righthander, who wasn’t part of the Astros’ World Se­ries club a year ago, took con­trol of the Cleve­land In­di­ans early on and dom­i­nated their lineup as few in the his­tory of the sport have. He gave up one run, al­lowed three hits and struck out 12 bat­ters while not is­su­ing any walks in a 3-1 vic­tory at Minute Maid Park.

Cole’s mas­ter­ful per­for­mance — he paid for one mis­take, got away with a cou­ple of oth­ers — set the tone for the win, which gave the Astros a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five se­ries.

Cole be­came the sec­ond pitcher in ma­jor league his­tory to post 12 or more strike­outs with­out a walk in a play­off game, join­ing Tom Seaver of the Mets, who 45 years ago to the day struck out 13 Reds with­out a walk in a Game 1 loss in the 1973 NLCS. Cole was bet­ter than Seaver, who gave up two solo home runs in his loss. Cole abused the heart of the In­di­ans’ or­der, post­ing two strike­outs apiece of Cleve­land’s Nos. 3-4-5 hit­ters.

Cleve­land man­ager Terry Fran­cona strug­gled to put into words the sub­ju­ga­tion his team had just en­dured.

“Oh, boy, his fast­ball was … you know, you could see it by the radar gun … but that sweep­ing break­ing ball … that's a pretty good com­bi­na­tion,” he said.

Pretty good in­deed. An­other no­table com­bi­na­tion is the Astros’ No. 1 and 2 starters. Justin Ver­lan­der and the bullpen al­lowed two runs on three hits in Fri­day’s se­ries opener. The six hits in two games are the fewest the Astros have given up in con­sec­u­tive play­off games.

Great pitch­ing beats good, great and all other kinds of hit­ting. The Astros set a ma­jor league record for strike­outs this sea­son, and led the ma­jors in ERA, op­po­nent bat­ting av­er­age and WHIP.

“They want to be per­fect,” Astros man­ager A.J. Hinch said of his pitch­ing staff. “They want a shutout ev­ery day, and they don’t care who you match up against, teams that can dom­i­nate, teams that can’t. They pre­pare as good as you would ex­pect. They ex­e­cute at an elite level. They get outs quickly if they need it. They punch guys (out with strike­outs) when they need it. Very few walks, ex­cel­lent stuff across the board. How many compliments can I give our pitch­ing staff ?”

In this case, there can­not be too many.

The Astros’ trade for Cole in Jan­uary, gave them an abun­dance of high-qual­ity pitch­ers, and ac­cord­ing to gen­eral man­ager Jeff Luh­now, vir­tu­ally as­sured they would be cham­pi­onship con­tenders again this sea­son. Cole’s ad­di­tion to the ro­ta­tion has played out just as the Astros imag­ined.

Not that the Astros had any doubts about Cole’s abil­ity. He had a ca­reer­high 276 strike­outs this sea­son, and ac­cord­ing to Elias Sports Bu­reau, his 13.2 strike­outs per nine in­nings av­er­age at Minute Maid was “the 3rd-high­est sin­gle-sea­son rate in home games since 1893.”

But the play­offs, those height­eneda­drenaline sit­u­a­tions, are some­thing dif­fer­ent. Three pitches in, Cole gave a semi-ner­vous turn af­ter Fran­cisco Lin­dor ripped a fast­ball to deep left-cen­ter field. The next time up, Lin­dor got hold of a two-out, two-strike of­fer­ing from Cole and launched a high fly into the right- field seats to give the In­di­ans a 1-0 lead.

But the qual­ity swings against Cole were few. He main­tained un­til the Astros scratched out a cou­ple of runs on a Mar­win Gon­za­lez sin­gle in the sixth.

Cole ex­ited af­ter seven in­nings, as only the sec­ond Astros pitcher to strike out at least 12 bat­ters and al­low three or fewer hits in a play­off game. Nolan Ryan did so against the Mets in the 1986 NLCS. The Astros lost that game. Thus, they never took con­trol of that mem­o­rable se­ries as they have this one.

MLB teams that have taken a 2-0 lead in best-of-five play­off se­ries are 69-10 all-time (87.3 per­cent). Next on the mound is for­mer Cy Young win­ner Dal­las Keuchel. Then there will be Char­lie Morton, who had a ca­reer year.

And, of course, should Cleve­land win those games, the In­di­ans get to come back to Hous­ton to face Ver­lan­der. And some team, at some point this post­sea­son, will see Cole. Hinch said it’s like “copy-and-paste.” “There’s no doubt we ex­pect to be good, but this is a team ef­fort,” Cole said. “So, we ex­pect to keep our team in the ball­game. I don’t know about all the per­sonal ac­co­lades or all the dom­i­nance or that kind of stuff, but we just want to put up a fight.”

I wouldn’t call strik­ing out 12, with three hits and no walks, while power blast­ing a fast­ball that reached 100.1 mph, sim­ply putting up a fight. That’s more like throw­ing knock­out punches, over and over and over.

And the In­di­ans are al­most down for the count.

Brett Coomer / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Ger­rit Cole turned in a play­off-qual­ity start Sat­ur­day, al­low­ing a run on three hits and strik­ing out 12 in seven in­nings. He threw 98 pitches, walk­ing none.

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