HOUSTON – It wasn’t the first inning beatdown the Cardinals gave the Braves, but it was enough for the Houston Astros.
The AL West champions got four hits from the first four batters of Game 5 against Tampa Bay Rays starter Tyler Glasnow to build a four-run lead, which was enough for ace Gerrit Cole in a 6-1 win in Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series at Minute Maid Park.
Cole pitched eight innings, allowing one run on a solo home run from Eric Sogard, and struck out 10 to help send the Astros to the ALCS for the third consecutive season.
Tampa Bay’s bullpen was again lights out. After the Astros’ four-spot in the first inning, the Rays did not allow another hit until the seventh inning, but Cole kept Tampa Bay’s lineup in check.
After a revolving door of Rays relievers in the seventh, Houston battered Emilio Pagan with back-to-back home runs by Michael Brantley and Jose Altuve in the eighth.
Man of the moment
Cole won his second game of the series, after a dominant 15-strikeout performance that statistically was one of the best in postseason history.
The right-handed pitcher threw 107 pitches over his eight innings lifting the Astros into the ALCS.
In 15 ⅔ innings over his Game 2 and 5 starts, Cole struck out 25 batters, allowed six hits and one run.
Cole won his 18th consecutive decision, spanning his last 24 starts, dating to May 27.
The single-season consecutive win streak is now the longest in MLB history, breaking a tie with Roy Face (1959) and Carl Hubbell (1936)
Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash stayed with Glasnow despite his starter being knocked around early in the first and he paid back Cash’s confidence by getting into the third inning.
Glasnow retired the last seven batters he faced and set the tone for the Rays’ slew of relievers.
Cash used nine different pitchers, holding the potent Astros offense to one hit and two baserunners through the seventh inning, before Houston tacked on in the eighth.
The blast by Altuve was his 11th career playoff home run, the most ever by a second baseman.
About that first
After struggling to get into an offensive groove in two games at Tropicana Field, the Rays matched their run production in the first inning.
George Springer and Michael Brantley hit nearly identical shots into left field to lead off the game and Jose Altuve followed with an RBI single.
AL MVP candidate Alex Bregman followed the hit parade with a two-run double.
It wasn’t until Glasnow got a ground out from No. 5 hitter Yordan Alvarez that Tampa Bay recorded its first out, but it was already 3-0.
The five hits were the most in the first inning of a postseason game in Astros history, as Houston improved to 27-0 this season when scoring multiple runs in the opening frame.
The Astros bucked a recent trend, winning as the home team in a decisive Game 5 of the divisional series. Since 1995, road teams had held a 20-11 edge in the winner-take-all contest, including winning the last six games, including twice on Wednesday (Cardinals and Nationals).
Houston earns a date with the Yankees, who dispatched the Twins in a three-game sweep. Game 1 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at Minute Maid Park.
The ALCS will be a rematch of 2017, which saw Houston topple New York in seven games on its way to its first World Series title.
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