By HAL McCOY
Gerrit Cole was not his omnipotent self Tuesday afternoon in Yankee Stadium, but when Cole is on the mound omnipotence isn’t always necessary.
And the New York Yankees discovered that the hard way in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
Cole worked without command of his normal fastball, a pitch Houston Astros advocates call the Coletrain.
The Yankees couldn’t score during Cole’s seven innings, despite him issuing five walks, tying his career high, and the Astros prevailed, 4-1.
That gave the Astros a two games to one lead in the best of seven series.
While Cole was on the mound, the Yankees stranded nine runners and were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. When in trouble, he was Cole-blooded.
As soon as the season ends, Cole becomes a free agent and teams will be lining up at his front door dangling high-value contracts.
In addition to missing his fastball, Cole had to endure a delay after home plate umpire Jeff Nelson took two foul balls off his face mask and left before the start of the fifth inning with a concussion.
Cole sat in the dugout for 35 minutes between pitches but didn’t miss a step and, in fact, retired the final seven batters he faced.
He gave up no runs, four hits, walked five and struck out seven during a 112-pitch work day.
The Yankees opened the bottom of the first with back-to-back singles by D.J. LeMahieu. Even though he knew runs come rarely against Cole, New York manager Aaron Boone opted not to have No. 3 hitter Brett Gardner bunt. He popped up to shallow center.
Edwin Encarnacion popped up to second on the first pitch. Gleyber Torres walked to fill the bases, but Didi Gregorius grounded to second. And the Yankees stranded three runners.
With two outs in the second, Aaron Hicks walked and LeMahieu punched his second hit. Cole then struck out Aaron Judge. And the Yankees stranded five runners in the first two innings.
With two outs in the fourth, Cole uncharacteristically walked two in a row. But he finally retired LeMahieu on a fly ball. And the Yankees stranded seven runners in the first four innings.
With two outs in the fifth, Encarnacion ended a 0-for-10 start to the ALCS with a double. Cole walked Torres on a full count. But Gregorius flied deep to the wall in right field. And the Yankees stranded nine runners in the first five innings.
And on and on and on it went.
Houston’s first two runs came on solo home runs against Yankee starter Luis Severino. With one out in the first, pint-sized powerhouse Jose Altuve, all 5-foot-5 of him clobbered a 430-foot home run.
The Astros filled the bases after Altuve’s home run, but Severino escaped more damage by getting Carlos Correa on a pop-up.
Houston made it 2-0 in the second when Josh Reddick reached the seats with a home run.
The Astros gave Cole four runs to work with by adding two in the seventh on a walk to George Springer, a hit-and-run single by Altuve, a wild pitch for the third run and a sacrifice fly by Yuri Gurriel for the fourth run.
That was more than Cole needed on this day, or most any day.
New York’s only run came in the eight when Wright State University product Joe Smith gave up an opposite-field home run to Torres.