HOUSTON — Gerrit Cole can deliver the Astros to their third straight ALCS and a date with the Yankees.
But there’s more.
The big right-hander can become the stuff of legends Thursday night. Every generation has postseason pitching heroes, and Cole can measure up to some of the greats with another incredible performance in the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS against the Rays at Minute Maid Park.
Just to watch Cole take the mound is an experience. He plays the part of a gunslinger in a Roger Clemens goes California cool kind of way.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch rolled the dice with Justin Verlander on short rest in Game 4. It was a bust, but he has Cole lined up on regular rest to finish off the Rays.
“I love it,’’ Hinch said Wednesday at Minute Maid Park. “I love that we’re here. The way we got here is nerve-wracking just because you don’t want to get to a Game 5. We fought all year to have a better record and to win our division to get this particular game at home. They’ve got to come into our house and beat us again. With Cole on the mound, I don’t know who could be more confident than us.’’
The Rays, meanwhile, are saying, “Why not us?’’
Cole is a free agent after the postseason and is 17-0 over his last 23 starts with a 1.69 ERA. He is coming off one of the most dominating postseason performances ever, a 15-strikeout beatdown of the Rays in Game 2, as 83 of his 118 pitches were strikes, with 33 swings and misses.
For the Rays to advance they are going to have to go Cy Young crazy, having already beat Zack Greinke and Verlander. Now it’s Cole.
Cole is one of those pitchers who seems to be born for this role. Just imagine the excitement of Cole starting Game 3 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, a place where he could wind up as a free agent.
“They’ve played calm, cool, and collected,” Cole said Tuesday night after casually walking to the interview room while munching sunflower seeds. “We know they’re a good team. We’ve known for a long time. To win that many games in the American League East — without Blake Snell for most of the year, without Tyler Glasnow for most of the year, maybe a couple other guys — is really impressive and now they’re here at full strength.
“So it’s been a good battle so far, and it will continue [Thursday].”
Yes it has been a good battle and now it is Cole versus Glasnow as Minute Maid Park goes berserk. This is the ultimate home-field advantage: that crowd, that ballpark, with Cole on the mound.
“Just give my team the best chance to win,’’ Cole said. “And we’ll go from there.’’
Could be legendary.