HOUSTON – There will always be second-guessing when you win more games than any other team in baseball in the regular season, but don’t finish the postseason by hoisting the championship trophy.
The Houston Astros won 107 regular-season games, then another 10 games in the playoffs, but it was the 11th postseason win they were in search of on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park that would have given them the World Series title that they could not get that created the most second-guessing.
Astros starter Zack Greinke brilliantly worked through the first six innings, he faced just one batter over the minimum. But after 13 pitches in the seventh inning, the second-guessing was set in motion.
Greinke allowed a one-out home run to Anthony Rendon, which cut the Astros 2-0 lead in half. Five pitches later, Juan Soto was standing on first base with a walk and Astros manager A.J. Hinch was walking to the mound to take the ball from Greinke.
Houston started the inning with a 2-0 lead, just nine outs away from the World Series crown. By the time they’d recorded those nine outs, the Nationals had scored six runs and Hinch had used five different pitchers in relief of Greinke. None of the arms called to come out of the bullpen belonged to Gerrit Cole.
Cole had made his way from the dugout to the bullpen in the middle of the game and was throwing on two different occasions. Yet, his last pitch for the Astros likely came Sunday in game five - which he dominated - and not in the series-deciding seventh game.
It was definitely curious why on the final day of the season, Cole was warming up in the bullpen, not once, but twice, yet was never summoned onto the mound.
Hinch’s explanation after the game was also a bit curious.
He bristled at the initial question regarding why Cole was in the bullpen seemingly getting loose to enter the game when he was asked was Cole available.
“Obviously, yeah. He's not throwing a bullpen,” Hinch quickly responded.
When asked why he went with other pitchers rather than Cole, Hinch said he was going to use Cole to close the game.
“I wasn't going to pitch him unless we were going to win the World Series and have a lead,” Hinch said. “He was going to help us win. He was available, and I felt it was a game that he was going to come in had we tied it or taken the lead.
“He was going to close the game in the 9th after I brought (Roberto) Osuna in had we kept the lead.”
Osuna entered the game with one out in the seventh inning, with the Astros already trailing, 3-2. The Nationals then put another run on him in the eighth inning.
The Astros led 2-0 with nine outs to go.
They trailed 3-2 with six outs to go.
They trailed 4-2 with three outs to go.
They trailed 6-2 as they batted in the bottom of the ninth.
And through it all, the signal never came for Cole to enter the game. Cole, who’d already set the AL record for most strikeouts in the postseason, was not called in to try to extend their record, but more importantly to hold the line and the deficit to a minimum.
Instead, Hinch left Osuna on the mound for 36 pitches, the most he’s ever thrown in his career (336 combined games in the regular season and playoffs). Most of those pitches came in the eighth inning, while Cole was warming up, for the second time in the game, and Osuna was touched up for a run.
Hinch basically said he was only putting Cole into the game if the Astros had the lead and he could go get the outs needed to close out the game.
All six of the Nationals runs were scored over the final three innings, all while Cole was in the bullpen expecting to get the call from Hinch to enter the game.
After the game, Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos told reporters, “I thought he (Cole) was going to have a chance to pitch tonight. He went to the bullpen in the fifth inning and said, ‘I’ll see you later today.’ I was waiting for him to come into the game.”
Everyone is still waiting.