The Washington Nationals won the World Series, which feels like an insane thing to write. (Be happy for them at your own discretion.) But let’s talk about Gerrit Cole. The Astros pitcher, one of the best in baseball, was nowhere to be found as Houston lost Game 7, 6-2. Manager A.J. Hinch revealed that it was part of a restrictive plan, and Cole revealed shortly thereafter that he had already moved past discussing it.
Zack Greinke started the final game of the season for the Astros, and was preserving a 2-0 lead until the top of the seventh. With one out in the inning, he gave up a solo homer to Anthony Rendon to cut that gap in half. Greinke then walked Juan Soto. That was time for Astros manager A.J. Hinch to make a change, but Cole wasn’t in the cards:
(That’s a very specific scenario, but looking at it long enough, there’s a way it makes some sense. Cole had started Sunday’s Game 5 and thrown 110 pitches over seven innings, and he’d been a workhorse throughout the postseason. Additionally, there was a career to consider. Cole will be a highly coveted free agent in the offseason. It would’ve been a beautiful ending if he had pulled off the same heroics as Madison Bumgarner and Chris Sale in Series past. It would be less beautiful if he had injured himself in a losing effort, jeopardizing his financial security.)
The Astros really could’ve used him while they still had a lead. Will Harris relieved Greinke, Howie Kendrick smacked a two-run dong, and the Nationals never looked back. Hinch used several other relievers over the course of the game, but it was too late.
After the defeat, Cole was reluctant to speak for a media presser because he no longer considered himself to be “an employee of the team.” (Accurate.) He eventually decided to chat, and wore a plain shirt and a hat emblazoned with his agent’s company’s logo. It felt pretty clear that Cole was ready to head to another team.
Being able to move on quickly from a devastating collapse, one full of what-ifs and regrets, is a truly impressive feat. The Astros—who had come back from a 2-0 series deficit, who had won three straight games at Nationals Park, who compiled the best regular-season record in baseball this year—were right there. They had Cole; they didn’t use him. Attribute it to miscommunication, mismanagement, or whatever you want. The opportunity was lost. The Astros are left to assess their mistakes and attempt to rebuild a pitching staff as fearsome as this one. Cole is free to go somewhere else, somewhere that can use his talents.