Houston — Houston's pair of aces dealt the Astros a pair of wins.
Gerrit Cole carried his splendid September into an outstanding October with a 15-strikeout performance and Alex Bregman handed fans chanting MVP the mighty swing they craved. The Astros survived a wild ninth inning to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 on Saturday night for a 2-0 lead in their AL Division Series.
Houston is one win from reaching the AL Championship Series for the third straight year.
"We've got a lot more work to take care of," Cole said. "There's a few months this winter that maybe we can sit back and have a drink about it. Right now, it's on to the next one."
Cole, 5-0 with a 1.07 ERA in six starts last month, set an Astros postseason strikeouts record over 7.2 scoreless innings to win his franchise-record 17th straight decision. The strikeouts tied for third-most in a postseason game, behind only Bob Gibson's 17 in the 1968 World Series and Kevin Brown's 16 in a 1998 NL Division Series.
"He was incredible," manager AJ Hinch said. "He had complete command of the entire game."
Cole's performance came after fellow ace and Cy Young Award contender Justin Verlander pitched seven scoreless innings to lead the Astros to a 6-2 win in Friday's opener.
Throwback performances from another era.
"Whether it's about the new-age opener or pulling guys third time through, most of the people that support that haven't had Verlander or Cole on their team," Hinch said. "It's hard for me to relate to having to pull guys early or wanting to pull guys early when these guys are putting up these kinds of performances. ... I'm going to roll with these boys while we have them."
Cole (1-0), who led the majors with 326 strikeouts in the regular season, extended his big league record with his 10th straight game with at least 10 Ks. The Rays were unable to string anything together off of him on a night he induced 33 swings and misses — the most in a postseason game since MLB started tracking the stat in 2008 — and threw a career-high 118 pitches.
"I don't think anything he did was surprising," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He's just that good."
"He was majestic," the Rays' Willy Adames said.
Kevin Kiemaier doubled with two outs in the eighth and Cole was lifted after putting on Adames with Tampa Bay's first walk. The right-hander received a standing ovation as he walked off the mound and waved to the crowd just before he reached the dugout. Roberto Osuna took over and struck out Yandy Díaz to end the inning before loading the bases with no outs in the ninth.
Gregorius powers Yankees
In New York, the 103-win Yankees ran out identical, relentless lineups in consecutive games for the first time all year, and manager Aaron Boone believes he knows what’s next for the A-team Bombers.
“Throttle down,” he said.
Didi Gregorius hooked a slump-busting grand slam during a seven-run third inning and the Yankees pummeled the Minnesota Twins again, cruising to an 8-2 victory Saturday for a 2-0 lead in their AL Division Series.
Uber driver-turned-rookie big leaguer Randy Dobnak struggled in an unexpected start, and the Twins lost their record 15th consecutive postseason game, including 12 straight against the Yankees. The latter is the longest postseason skid for one club against another in major league history, topping Boston’s dominance over the Angels from 1986-2008. Minnesota hasn’t won a playoff game since Johan Santana bested the Yankees in their 2004 Division Series opener — exactly 15 years earlier.
“Our guys know that we can turn it around,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Coaches and players on both sides have downplayed that history, most of which predates current rosters. It’s all too familiar for fans in Minnesota, where the teams will play Monday’s Game 3 in the best-of-five series.
“We’ll have all kinds of fire power ready to go Monday,” Boone said.
Gregorius’ shot blew Game 2 wide open while New York batted around. The switch-hitter staggered after connecting for the first time since Sept. 10, looping his bat from one hand to another and mashing on bubble gum while he watched the ball fly. Gregorius, set to become a free agent after the season, batted .194 during September and was 0 for 3 in Game 1.
“I expect this from Didi,” Boone said. “Just when you think you’ve got him down, he’s got a big swing in him.”
Boone had predicted that if Gregorius could just find a hole, big hits might follow. Sure enough, Gregorius squibbed an infield single in his first at-bat before lifting his homer into the second deck in right field.
Gregorius said he was processing the at-bat during his unusual reaction to the slam. Relief pitcher Tyler Duffey struck out Gregorius on a high fastball Friday, a similar pitch to the one Gregorius crushed.
“I was ready for it this time,” he said.
Finally featuring nearly all its stars after placing 30 players on the injured list during the regular season, New York has grinded away at Twins pitching. The Yankees worked eight walks for the second straight game, and Aaron Judge led the way with two hits and two free passes.
“They were really good, especially on breaking balls,” Duffey said. “If you weren’t close to the plate, it didn’t even seem like they wanted to even think about swinging.”
Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka pitched one-run ball for five innings for the win, striking out seven and handing off to New York’s fearsome bullpen after 83 pitches. Tanaka’s career postseason ERA climbed to 1.54, still second lowest by a New York starter with a minimum of four starts behind Monte Pearson’s 1.01.
“I actually don’t get too caught up on being good in the postseason and all that,” Tanaka said through a translator. “Come to think about it, I think it’s still a small sample. My thing is just go out there and be the best that you can be, compete.”
Dobnak, who is the first United Shore Professional Baseball League alum to reach the majors, faltered in just his 10th big league appearance, taking the loss a week after his wedding in Maryland. The undrafted right-hander allowed Edwin Encarnación’s RBI single in the first inning, stranded two in the second and loaded the bases with no outs in the third before being pulled.