Game 3 pits the former Astros star against Cristian Javier, who no-hit the Yankees with Cole starting back in June.
HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Sure, the Astros have run into Gerrit Cole at least three times already since the former Houston pitcher departed after the 2019 World Series and joined the New York Yankees.
And, yes, Cole made the 'Stros bend to his will in that July 2021 primetime matchup in which he struck out 12 Houston batters during a complete game.
But Cole and the club that gave him two of his five career All-Star selections have a lot more at stake when they collide in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
For the 32-year-old righthander, the goal is to cut into his old team's 2-0 series lead by quieting the bats as much as possible.
He may have done that on June 25 when he faced the Astros in the regular season, pitching seven quality innings and allowing just four hits and a run. But he didn't count on facing Cristian Javier, who on that day was the catalyst of a combined no-hitter in the Bronx.
As fate - and celebratory party fouls - would have it, Javier once again opposes Cole as the Game 3 starter. Javier is on a mission to put Houston in position to clinch another World Series trip.
Still, some 'Stros fans and observers couldn't help but remember Cole's final night with the Astros, which was puzzling for some and heartbreaking for others who accepted him as part of Houston but aware of his impending leave.
Oct. 30, 2019 still leaves a sour taste in every Astros fans' mouth, but may have been just as sour for Cole that night.
Houston's manager at the time, AJ Hinch, shifted out starter Zack Greinke for Will Harris to protect a 2-1 lead despite a seventh inning home run already allowed in Game 7 of the World Series.
There's a divided opinion over whether Cole should have come in relief in the winner-take-all. He would come in on three days' rest, but it wouldn't be out of the question to insert a starting pitcher that late. Hinch did that in a World Series Game 7 two years earlier.
But Hinch stuck with Harris and the rest is a melancholy that doesn't have to be elaborated past this sentence.
Cole, ever the competitor, was clearly stoic after the move was made, and that demeanor would carry over in the clubhouse post game when reporters tried to talk with the already checked-out star.
"Do I have to do it? Technically, I'm unemployed," Cole said to Astros' public relations, alluding to his contract ending with the club.
He went ahead with the media and postured his responses as if he was not re-signing, all while wearing the cap with a logo of his agent, Scott Boras.
Knowing what we know now, Cole's departure didn't deter the Astros from staying competitive. It actually opened up a spot for a future cornerstone like Javier, Framber Valdez, or Luis Garcia to thrive in.
What may have been overlooked with Cole passing the 'Stros over in free agency was his open letter to fans and the city.
"Houston, last night was a tough one for us and the heartbreak hasn't gotten any easier today," Cole started in his open letter penned on Oct. 31, 2019.
But, the Cy Young Award contender glowed about the city since he arrived via trade in 2018.
"Before I became an Astro I didn't know much about Houston, but after just two years you have made it feel like home," he continued. "Playing in front (of) you is really something special and has been such an honor. The incredible support and passionate roars inspire our team to play at (the) highest level we possibly can. This is a relationship between a team and (its) fans like no other that I know."
Hopefully, if things go Houston's way, no hard feelings, No. 45?
All times listed are CDT. Games 5-7 are if necessary*.