New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole only overcame the nostalgia of returning to Minute Maid Park for the first time since he left the Houston Astros following the 2019 World Series, plus he managed to sidestep an illness that threatened to prevent him from making his final start of the first half on Saturday.
It will be up to right-hander Jameson Taillon (4-4, 5.05 ERA) to follow Cole's act when he takes the mound in Houston on Sunday to conclude the first half of the season. The Yankees will look to end on a high note at the All-Star break with a series sweep after winning 1-0 on Saturday and 4-0 on Friday.
Cole pitched brilliantly in the Yankees' 1-0 win, throwing a three-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts. He threw a career-high 129 pitches and did not allow a runner past second base. He did so after chugging about five liters of fluids and riding a rush of adrenaline.
"I've been kind of miserable," Cole said. "There was maybe a little bit of question 36 or 48 hours ago, but I was able to recover. You don't want to know what I was going through."
Thanks to Cole, the Yankees are on the cusp of finishing their trip at 5-1.
"That's great, but we've got a big one (Sunday) now," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "We've got a chance to have a really good trip."
Taillon earned the win in his most recent start, allowing one run on four hits and one walk with a season-high-tying nine strikeouts over seven innings in a 12-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners last Tuesday.
Taillon has won three consecutive starts, helped by the Yankees scoring a combined 31 runs. Taillon graduated from The Woodlands High School just north of Houston and will make his second career start against the Astros and first at Minute Maid Park.
As a rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Taillon allowed two runs on four hits and one walk with eight strikeouts over eight innings in a 3-1 loss at PNC Park on Aug. 22, 2016.
Left-hander Framber Valdez (5-1, 2.86 ERA) will start Sunday as the Astros attempt to avert a series sweep. He logged five innings in his most recent start on Tuesday against the Oakland Athletics, his lowest total since his season debut, and allowed season highs in hits (10) and runs (six) but did not factor into the decision in the Astros' 9-6 win. Valdez had worked at least six innings in each of his previous six starts, pitching to a 5-1 record and 2.18 ERA during that span.
Valdez has faced the Yankees once, allowing five runs on four hits -- including two homers -- and three walks with three strikeouts over 3 1/3 innings in a 10-6 loss on June 20, 2019.
The All-Star break appears to be arriving at the optimal time for the Astros, who have four key players on the 10-day injured list and had to nurse ace Zack Greinke through his start against the Yankees on Saturday. Greinke logged four innings in what was a predetermined abbreviated start to counter right-shoulder soreness that has been lingering for a few weeks.
"He told me the other day that he was feeling a little soreness but said he was fine to pitch," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "But we had an eye on him the whole time and thought that was enough. We have a break here, and he'll get a few extra days. He's one of our main horses, and we had to take care of him."
Greinke, who entered his 19th start leading the American League with 111 1/3 innings, did not seem overly concerned and appeared confident that the extra time off will serve him well.
"We've got a good treatment plan and a couple days of rest," Greinke said. "I'm pretty confident that will make it better. That's the plan."