Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole have been even more brilliant in the playoffs, keeping Cleveland’s powerful offense in check to give the Houston Astros a 2-0 lead in the AL Division Series.
Cole struck out 12 and walked none, combining with two relievers on Houston’s second straight three-hitter in a 3-1 victory Saturday.
“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.”
Marwin Gonzalez hit a go-ahead, two-run double and Alex Bregman homered for the second straight day.
Next up: 2015 AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel will oppose Mike Clevinger in Game 3 of this best-of-five series on Monday in Cleveland.
Francisco Lindor hit a third-inning homer for the AL Central champion Indians, who have three runs in the two games. Cleveland is batting .100 (6 for 60) following a regular season in which the Indians ranked second in the majors with a .259 average. Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson have combined to go 1 for 22.
“This is one of the best offenses in the league,” manager AJ Hinch said. “They can do damage. They can put long at-bats together. (Cole) used all his pitches. He was creative. What else can I say? He was awesome.”
Gonzalez put the Astros ahead in the sixth with the third of his four hits, an opposite-field double to right off usually reliable reliever Andrew Miller.
“With a one-run lead, and with Gonzalez coming up the way he had swung the bat against him prior and Andrew’s history, I felt really good about it,” manager Terry Francona said. “Didn’t work out the way we obviously planned.”
Bregman homered against Trevor Bauer in the seventh, and the World Series champions moved within a win of a second straight trip to the AL Championship Series.
Cole allowed one run and three hits in seven innings, joining Tom Seaver (1973) as the only pitchers to strike out at least 12 batters without a walk in a postseason game.
Ryan Pressly got two outs, and Roberto Osuna walked one in a four-out save.
Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco allowed two runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Jose Altuve singled leading off the sixth but slipped as he left the batter’s box and was limping after reaching first base. Hinch and a trainer came out to check on Altuve, who remained in the game.
Bregman walked and one out later, Cleveland brought in Miller, the dominating left-hander who was MVP of the 2016 AL Championship Series but has been slowed by injuries this year.
The switch-hitting Gonzalez turned around and hit right-handed. He fouled off a slider, then doubled on a fastball. Gonzalez, who hit a career-best .303 last season, has struggled this year hitting just .247.
“It was a tough season for me on the offensive side … but I’ve been putting in a lot of work and it felt good today,” Gonzalez said.
Miller had allowed just one previous inherited runner to score in the postseason, on a sacrifice fly by Boston’s David Ortiz in Game 3 of the 2016 AL Division Series.
Miller walked Carlos Correa on four pitches and loaded the bases with an intentional walk.
“I wasn’t good,” Miller said. “I wasn’t effective.”
Bauer, a starter pitching in relief for the second straight day, retired Evan Gattis on a popout and struck out Martin Maldonado.
Cole retired 13 of 14 after Lindor’s homer, striking out the side in the fourth. After fanning Ramirez on three pitches to end the sixth, Cole screamed and pumped both arms as he walked off the mound.
Houston leadoff hitter George Springer went 1 for 4 with a single, ending a streak of five straight postseason games with a home run — one shy of Daniel Murphy’s record.
Now he and the Astros head to Cleveland hoping to set a different kind of mark by becoming the second team in franchise history to reach the championship series in consecutive seasons.
“We’re going to try to finish it on Monday,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the mentality that everybody has in the clubhouse.”
Osuna, acquired from Toronto in July, has pitched 11 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. The streak spans nine games, including six in a row against Cleveland. He’s converted all three save chances in the playoffs and each of his three saves have been more than three outs.
THEY SAID IT
Francona on his team’s mindset heading into Monday’s elimination game: “Show up on Monday and play for our baseball life. Nobody wants to go home. So, try to keep this thing going.”
Keuchel (12-11, 3.74 ERA) is 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA in eight postseason games, including seven starts. Clevinger (13-8, 3.02) will be making his first career postseason start after making six relief appearances with a 6.43 ERA.
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