The subtleties behind beating Houston Astros ace Gerrit Cole

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 05: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Houston Astros reacts after his 14th strike out during the eighth inning of Game 2 of the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park on October 05, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 05: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Houston Astros reacts after his 14th strike out during the eighth inning of Game 2 of the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park on October 05, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Beating Houston Astros Ace Gerrit Cole

How about an off night?

Even ace pitchers are human, which means they occasionally don’t bring their best games. The first step in defeating a pitcher having a Cole-type of the season is to scope out the prospect, however unlikely, that on this particular night he might be fallible.

Against Gerrit Cole, such an eventuality is especially unlikely. He’s only given up as many as four earned runs twice since June 1, fewer times than he has shut out his opponents. Intriguingly, the Rays were one of the two teams to get to Cole, touching him for four runs on six hits over six and two-thirds innings Aug. 28.

For the record, it didn’t help; Houston still won the game 8-6.

The test is to give Cole a first-inning look-see. Will he be around the strike zone? Does he have his normal movement?

If the Rays did set out to execute this part of the plan Saturday night, it may have been their best moment. The second batter, Austin Meadows, lasted eight pitches before striking out, and the third, Tommy Pham, drove the seventh pitch he saw for a line single to right.

The problem was that Cole, who normally doesn’t need much help, got some. Shortstop Carlos Correa ranged a couple of steps into left field to snag leadoff batter Yandy Diaz’s ground ball and then threw Diaz out at first base, an extraordinary play. Had Diaz reached, Pham’s single probably would have sent him to third base with just one out, and it’s possible the Rays might have scored first.

As it was, cleanup hitter followed Pham’s single by fanning on four pitches.

The good news was that the Rays got a 20-pitch look at Cole. The bad news was two-fold. They learned he was, as usual, on his game, and they also learned he had a defense behind him to clean up contingencies. Grade: C.