NEW YORK -- Would you believe there was a point this season when Gerrit Cole looked fallible?
It's true. Check the game logs. During the first couple of months of the season, there were some dicey outings. Here's one: On May 22, Cole was outpitched by Ivan Nova of the White Sox. He gave up six runs over five innings and yielded homers to Jose Abreu and Eloy Jimenez. Cole took the loss that day, a 9-4 Chicago victory.
"I was just off," Cole told reporters afterward. "It wasn't a good night. I wasn't synced up enough in my delivery."
At that point, Cole was 4-5 with a 4.11 ERA, and if there was one label to hang on his season, it would have been inconsistent. Maybe it was due to those delivery-syncing issues, but Cole had peppered in some real clunkers with a few solid starts. Five months later, we know what has come since: nothing but synchronicity.
Taken as a whole, Cole's numbers since that lackluster outing against the White Sox have been nothing short of staggering. Including the postseason, he's gone 18-0 with a 1.66 ERA and 251 strikeouts in 162⅓ innings. The Astros have won 22 of his 24 starts during that span. An average game score, according to the Bill James metric, is 50. Cole has recorded at least a 55 in all 24 of those starts, with an average of 72.
"He's been on one of the most incredible runs I've ever seen, that the baseball world has ever seen," Astros co-ace Justin Verlander said during Houston's American League Division Series win over the Tampa Bay Rays. "If you could name a starting pitcher in all of major league baseball, you'd want him on the mound."
Cole's two postseason outings have been dazzling. He gave up one run on six hits over 15⅔ innings with 25 strikeouts against the Rays in Houston's first postseason series, the K total breaking the record for the LDS round by three. It's possible that, if needed, he could have given the Astros even more.
"I think if I'd have left him in for 130 pitches," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said after Cole's 107-pitch outing in the Game 5 clincher over Tampa Bay, "his 130th pitch would have been 99 mph, paint on the black. That's Gerrit Cole."
In other words, thus far, the post-May 22 Cole has showed up in October like a great scary pumpkin to put the fright in every opponent the Astros encounter. After the Astros outlasted the New York Yankees 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday to even the AL Championship Series, the horizon looks bright for Houston.
Cole is slated to start Tuesday's Game 3 and would get one more start in the series if it goes long. If Cole remains as unbeatable as he's been since May, then Houston would need to steal only one other game from the Yankees, and Verlander has one more start to go. Not a bad position to be in for an Astros club that is just 4-3 overall in the playoffs and has been outscored 27-22.
When asked how significant it was for the Astros to recapture momentum in the series, Jose Altuve said, "A lot, believe me. Guess what? We got Gerrit Cole on the mound [next]."
You certainly can't blame Altuve for feeling that way. Cole has been awing teammates and opponents alike. After Game 2 in the ALDS, the Rays' Willy Adames called Cole's performance "majestic." It's a good word for what Cole has been doing each turn through the rotation.
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Carlos Correa calls Gerrit Cole "a bad man" after Cole shut down the Rays in Game 2.
Every so often, we see pitchers get on this kind of run, and it's always memorable. Cole hasn't been the only hurler to take on the untouchable look even this season -- the Cardinals' Jack Flaherty posted a 0.91 ERA during the season's second half. There have been other famous instances of "unbeatable" pitchers -- Jacob deGrom only last season. Jake Arrieta in 2015, Pedro Martinez in 2002, Orel Hershiser in 1988, Doc Gooden and John Tudor in 1985, Bob Gibson in 1968. And that's just a partial list.
However, with the Astros pinning so much of their confidence on Cole's perceived infallibility, it's fair to ask: Do pitchers who get on this kind of run typically carry their dominance through to the finish? Are they and their teammates left standing at the end?