Cole struck out 10 batters, including his 300th of the season, in eight strong innings, Yuli Gurriel and Jose Altuve homered and the Astros beat the Texas Rangers 3-2 Wednesday night to lock up a postseason berth.
Houston won its fifth straight and 100th game of the season, becoming one of six teams in major league history to win at least 100 games in three straight seasons. The Astros lost at least 100 games in three straight seasons from 2011-13.
The Astros (100-53) have a one-game lead on the New York Yankees, who lost 3-2 to the Los Angeles Angels, for the best record in the majors. Houston can clinch the AL West as early as Friday with a win and loss by Oakland.
"If you like winning, 100 three years in a row is a lot," Houston manager AJ Hinch said. "I love it for this team and for this organization. It's a big accomplishment. It's one step along the way for us and what we're trying to accomplish this season. I don't want that to be the high note by any means."
Cole (18-5) allowed two runs on six hits in earning his 14th straight win. He hasn't lost since May 22 against the White Sox, a span of 20 starts. Cole struck out 10 or more for the seventh straight start, tying the club record set earlier this season by Justin Verlander.
"He's incredible," Hinch said. "He's a special player; he's a special person. It was a big night for him. That's a big accomplishment. He did it in a win. . He's been a workhorse for us the entire year. These performances that he just rattles off is not easy. He makes it look a lot easier than it is."
Cole, the major league leader in strikeouts, became the third Astros pitcher to reach 300 strikeouts in a season, joining J.R. Richard, who had 313 in 1979 and 303 in 1978, and Mike Scott, who struck out 306 in 1986.
Cole struck out Shin-Soo Choo to end the sixth for his 300th of the season. After the strikeout, Cole leapt off the mound and was given a standing ovation as he walked to the dugout. Cole waved to the crowd with his glove hand and touched his chest with his throwing hand.
"At first, I didn't know that was the one," Cole said. "Then, it became pretty obvious, and I just wanted to spend a minute with the fans and thank them for the ovation and all the support."
Roberto Osuna pitched the ninth for his 35th save.
Gurriel gave the Astros a 2-0 lead in the fifth with a two-run homer to left. Altuve hit a solo home run to lead off the seventh make the lead 3-1.
Kolby Allard (4-1) allowed two runs on four hits with four walks and two strikeouts in five innings.
"I think there were a few times when I pitched myself out of jams and made some pitches when I had to," Allard said. "I thought there were a few times where I was trying to be a little too cute or nibble a little bit, and that's where I was falling behind."
The Rangers have lost five straight.
Rangers: OF Joey Gallo (wrist surgery) is uncertain to return to the Rangers by the end of the week and might not return this season, manager Chris Woodward said. Gallo has been working out and playing in games at the Rangers instructional league in Arizona, but has been experiencing soreness.
Astros: RHP Ryan Pressly (knee) could return as soon as this weekend, manager AJ Hinch said.
TUCKER'S GREAT PLAYS
Kyle Tucker robbed Scott Heineman of a home run in the third, reaching over the right field wall and bringing it back to lead off the inning. Tucker made a great throw to get Willie Calhoun out at second in the fourth. Calhoun was initially called safe, but after Houston challenged, the call was overturned.
Rangers: LHP Mike Minor (13-9, 3.33 ERA) starts a three-game series in Oakland against the Athletics on Friday. Minor was tagged for seven runs in his last start on Saturday against the Athletics.
Astros: After a day off on Thursday, RHP Zack Greinke (16-5, 2.95) starts the opener of a three-game series against the Angels on Friday. Greinke is 6-1 since being traded to Houston at the deadline.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
A man in the Astros' dugout was hit by a foul ball during ALCS Game 2
A man in the Astros dugout was hit by a foul ball during Game 2 of the American League Championship Series and exited with a towel over his head.
Yankees' Giancarlo Stanton day-to-day with quad strain
Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton was left out of the Yankees' starting lineup for Game 2 of the American League Champion Series against the Astros after suffering a right quad strain in his team's Game 1 win.
Dodgers must get their priorities in order after early October exit
After their shocking NLDS loss, focusing on the bullpen might seem obvious. But L.A. must play a deeper game in the hot stove league.
The key for the Astros in Game 2? Score some runs, quick
Justin Verlander (and Gerrit Cole in Game 3) gives the Astros an advantage. But Houston's sleeping offense needs to wake up -- early.
MLB Playoffs Daily: Yankees look to take control of the ALCS
After the Nationals moved up to 2-0 in their LCS, the Bombers' challenge is whether they can match that in Houston.
Washington Nationals OF Adam Eaton says 'Seinfeld' key to big hit
Nats outfielder Adam Eaton delivered a crucial two-run double in the eighth inning. His key to that at-bat? Heeding the advice given to "Seinfeld" character George Costanza.