Gerrit Cole, pitching on three days' rest for the first time in his career, faces the Tampa Bay Rays, the No. 1 seed in the American League, with a spot in the AL Championship Series against the Houston Astros on the line. The drama, the intrigue, the star power. Here's what you need to know.
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What's on tap
All times Eastern; all series best-of-five played at neutral sites
Game 5: No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays (Tyler Glasnow) vs. No. 5 New York Yankees (Gerrit Cole), 7:10 p.m. in San Diego
OK, Gerrit Cole, it's time to earn your money. If these were the George Steinbrenner days, The Boss would have been in the clubhouse after Game 4 and gone up to Cole and told him, "You better be ready." It's Yankees-Rays in Game 5 of the ALDS and Cole's first opportunity to earn his first true Yankee pinstripes.
"When the lights turn on, it doesn't matter if it's three, four, five, six, seven days [of] rest, you gotta do your job," Cole said.
Cole will be pitching on three days' rest for the first time in his career and that will be the big storyline heading into the game. It's a legitimate issue to discuss, but it shouldn't have a big effect on Cole's performance. He's a big, strong guy who threw just 97 pitches in his Game 1 start, which he had made on five days' rest. This will also be familiar territory for both Cole and the Rays. He faced Tampa Bay last year in Game 5 of the ALDS while with the Astros (albeit on four days' rest) and gave up two hits and one run in eight innings. The Rays did get to him for three runs in Game 1 on Monday, however, including home runs from Randy Arozarena and personal Cole killer Ji-Man Choi, who is 10-for-19 with four home runs and three doubles off Cole in his career.
In a perfect world for Aaron Boone, it's probably Cole, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman. Britton and Chapman both pitched in Game 4, throwing 22 and 23 pitches respectively, but they should be ready to go more than three outs again. Chad Green has pitched two days in a row but would be the third option out of the pen. If someone besides Cole and those three relievers is in the game, something has gone wrong for the Yankees.
The Rays are also rolling the dice, starting Tyler Glasnow on two days' rest, after he threw five innings and 93 pitches in Game 2. In fact, it's a rematch of that Game 5 from last year, when Glasnow lasted only 2 innings after the Astros scored four runs in the first (when they apparently realized Glasnow was tipping his fastball and jumped all over him). No Blake Snell? It does raise the question why Snell started Game 1 instead of Glasnow in the first place since the Rays have handled him very carefully all season after last year's injury issues. Kevin Cash could simply be reacting to Snell giving up three home runs in the first game.
The Rays have a deeper bullpen, but Cash has primarily relied on three right-handers late in games: Nick Anderson andPete Fairbanks, who haven't pitched since Game 2, and Diego Castillo, who also didn't pitch in Game 4. Cash might be looking for three or four innings from Glasnow, then up to two innings apiece from those three. Snell is another option.
All that should add up to an interesting chess match. In the end, of course, it's up to the players and nobody faces a bigger spotlight than Cole. Boone knew having Cole for Game 5 was always a possibility, even if the decision wasn't really made until before Thursday's game. "When he walked in today and got off the bus and walked past my office, he just said, 'Hey,' and he said just give me the ball. He is ready to go and I know [he's] looking forward to it."
Said Cole: "I think everybody is feeling like it's going to be a special game, a big game for us and you know it's not going to take one guy to win it. You know, I think anytime you are in a lineup in a do-or-die game your teammates have faith in you, your manager has faith in you. As a player that's always a good feeling and you always want to be out there in the big moment. Either team would have liked to have won this series before Game 5, but, hey, we're here and I think it's part of the path to get to where we ultimately want to get." -- David Schoenfield
Projections courtesy of ESPN's Bradford Doolittle.
Yankees-Rays (tied 2-2): Rays 55.2% to advance
Running World Series odds
NL: Dodgers 53.7%, Braves 15.1%
AL: Rays 14.1%, Yankees 8.9%, Astros 8.2%
Hot take of the day
Ride Gerrit Cole. That's my hot take.
Go down with your best guy, maybe the best pitcher on the planet, even if he wasn't quite the best pitcher in the regular season.
It feels as if managers have gotten a little too cute at times this postseason. The White Sox mismanaged a Game 3 bullpen game against the A's. Boone's Deivi Garcia/J.A. Happ gambit in Game 2 didn't pay off. The Dodgers-Padres game Thursday night was just weird, with Dave Roberts pulling Dustin May -- who looked unhittable -- after one inning, and the Padres starting rookie Adrian Morejon, who had given up seven home runs in 19 innings and predictably gave up three runs in two innings.
There was understandable rationale behind all those decisions -- believe me, the managers, coaches and front-office folks spend a lot of time discussing these moves -- but there's no reason to get cute with Cole. Give him his 100 or 110 pitches and hopefully he gets the ball late enough for Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman.
Hope he doesn't give up some home runs. Hope your offense hits some. And don't forget to breathe. Winner take all, baby. --Schoenfield
Stat of the day
The Astros slashed .322/.388/.594 as a team in their division series win over A's. Only three players during the regular season had a slash line that high in each category: Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna. So in other words, their entire team hit like Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman or Marcell Ozuna for the four-game series.
About last night ...
The Dodgers took all the drama out of their series with the Padres, putting a 5-spot on the board in the third inning and coasting to a12-3 win. The biggest upset in the uprising: There were no extra-base hits. The inning went walk, wild pitch, infield hit and error, single, ground out, strikeout, intentional walk, single, stolen base, single, fly out. Given all the power on display from the Dodgers and everyone else this postseason, they were the quietest five runs of the playoffs. But it got the job done. ... Next up for L.A. are the Braves, who behind Kyle Wright finished off the Marlins with their fourth shutout in five games this postseason. The Braves and Dodgers are the only two teams without a loss in the playoffs. ... In the American League, the Astros continued to rake, clearing out the A's with an 11-6 Game 4 rout. ... That leaves the Yankees and Rays, with New York forcing a winner-take-all Game 5 after a 5-1 win. Jordan Montgomery escaped four innings, giving up only one run, then the Yankees' bullpen slammed the door.
Social media post of the day
Best moment of the MLB playoffs to date
The stage was set for another Fernando Tatis Jr. moment, but Cody Bellinger snatched it away. Bellinger's home run robbery, plucking what would have been a go-ahead shot by Tatis in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the NLDS, kept the Padres at bay -- barely -- and will take its place in Dodgers lore, particularly if L.A. wins it all.
The running MLB playoffs MVP
The Astros' offensive juggernaut has been in high gear, and the leader of the pack is Carlos Correa, who hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the division series clincher against the A's. Through six games, the numbers are staggering: 10-for-20, four home runs, 12 RBIs, a 1.715 OPS. Correa's 12 RBIs are tied for the second-most ever in a team's first six postseason games, and his 11 RBIs against Oakland are tied for the most by a shortstop in any series in postseason history (matching Boston's Nomar Garciaparra, 1998 LDS vs. Cleveland).
Torres expands Yanks' lead with two-run homer
Gleyber Torres launches a two-run home run to left field to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead in the sixth inning.
Will Smith's historic five-hit game sends Dodgers to NLCS
Will Smith sets a Dodgers record and becomes the first catcher in major league history with five hits in a postseason game, helping L.A. to eliminate the Padres.