HOUSTON -- Gerrit Cole struck out 10 in eight stellar innings, making an early offensive eruption stand in the Houston Astros' 6-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in a decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Thursday.
The Astros advance to their third consecutive AL Championship Series and will host the New York Yankees on Saturday in Game 1 at Minute Maid Park. The Astros and Yankees clashed in a memorable ALCS in 2017, with Houston claiming Game 7 at home en route to winning the World Series.
Cole (2-0) improved to 18-0 over his last 24 starts by limiting the Rays to one run on two hits and two walks. He surrendered a home run to Eric Sogard on the first pitch of the second inning, but after allowing a leadoff single to Ji-Man Choi in the fourth, Cole faced the minimum of 15 batters to complete his outing.
Cole fanned two batters in the first, second, fourth and eighth innings.
When he needed defensive support, he got it, with shortstop Carlos Correa delivering a splendid throw from deep in the hole to retire Tommy Pham for the second out of the sixth inning. After walking Rays catcher Travis d'Arnaud to open the seventh, Cole induced an inning-ending double play off the bat of Avisail Garcia, offering an emphatic fist pump while Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve executed the play.
What proved critical to the Astros' success was their early ambush of Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow (0-2).
George Springer, Michael Brantley, Altuve and Bregman reached in succession to open the bottom of the first, with everyone excluding Springer delivering opposite-field hits. Altuve roped an RBI single to right-center that scored Springer from third before Bregman added a double that reached the wall in right-center and plated Brantley and Altuve.
Yuli Gurriel capped the four-run outburst with an RBI single that scored Bregman.
The Houston offense went hitless over the next five innings as the Rays began a parade of eight relief pitchers.
It wasn't until the eighth that the Astros broke through against the Tampa Bay bullpen, with Brantley and Altuve delivering back-to-back homers off Rays closer Emilio Pagan. Altuve blasted his 11th career postseason homer, an all-time record for a second baseman.
With Cole exiting after a 107-pitch outing, Roberto Osuna pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to seal the win, fanning Choi for the last out.