He didn’t like his curveball. He left too many fastballs over the plate. He set a sky-high standard for himself this season, and he couldn’t meet it.
“It wasn’t my sharpest game,” Cole admitted.
Winning the American League Championship Series in six games against the Yankees enabled the Astros to go with Cole for Game 1 of the World Series — an all but automatic win on paper that looked even surer after Houston took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. But the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman hit a solo home run — “I made a poor pitch,” Cole said — in the second, and Juan Soto added another one in the fourth to tie the score.
It was the next inning that was most problematic for Cole. He walked Kurt Suzuki on five pitches before Victor Robles singled to right on a 98-mph fastball. Adam Eaton’s line drive scored Suzuki, and Soto’s double two batters later added two more runs to lift the Nationals to a 5-2 lead. He had never allowed that many earned runs in a postseason game before, and the last time he did it at all was in May.
“I thought the fastball was leaking a little off the corner a couple times,” Cole said. “I struggled with the curveball command, kind of buried us in some bad counts and then just a poor pitch to Soto and not being able to finish that inning off without a crooked number.”
On an Astros team rich with World Series experience after winning it just two years ago, Tuesday was Cole’s debut on this stage. Houston acquired him from the Pittsburgh Pirates before the 2018 season in the hopes that he could pair with Justin Verlander at the top of its rotation and boost its repeat bid. But he lost his ALCS Game 2 start against Boston a year ago, and the Red Sox ultimately advanced past the Astros in five games. Cole didn’t get a chance for redemption then, but he will almost certainly get one in this World Series.
“In the bullpen, it was fine,” catcher Martín Maldonado said. “It was probably the best he has thrown in the bullpen coming into the game. First inning was really good, but I would say after that, I don’t know what happened.”
Twenty-four hours before he stepped onto the mound of a World Series game for the first time, Cole reminisced about the three he attended as a fan — the 2001 Fall Classic between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees, the 2002 Series between the Anaheim Angels and the San Francisco Giants, and the 2012 Giants’ sweep of the Detroit Tigers. Those experiences have given him an appreciation of baseball’s history, and when he was asked to consider his place in it at just 29 years old, compared to greats such as Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, Cole tried to stay in this moment, aware it could ultimately define his legacy.
“When you dream as a little kid, you dream about storybook endings and storybook players and scenarios like that,” Cole said Monday. “I’m just trying to stay focused and trying to finish the job because the people that you keep referring to in asking the question got the job done. So I’m trying to deliver on that front.”