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
Boone addresses Severino being shut down
Aaron Boone says the Yankees will be shutting down Luis Severino for the next couple days as he deals with nagging soreness in his forearm when throwing his changeup.
Yankees shut down Luis Severino with forearm soreness
Yankees GM Brian Cashman said "it's possible" that Luis Severino could begin the season on the injured list after the right-hander was shut down due to forearm soreness.
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy says he was changing signs every pitch vs. Astros
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who played for three of the Astros' AL West rivals between 2016 and '19, says "everyone in baseball" knew they were stealing signs and that he changed his signs every single pitch.
David Ortiz: Mike Fiers looks like a 'snitch' for exposing Astros scandal
Former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz says A's pitcher Mike Fiers looks "like a snitch" for exposing the Astros sign-stealing scandal after the fact.
Phillies win arbitration case against J.T. Realmuto
The Philadelphia Phillies won their arbitration case against All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto on Thursday, putting teams ahead of players 7-4 this year and ensuring clubs will finish with a winning record.
Ex-Blue Jays reliever Mike Bolsinger adds owner Jim Crane, staffer Derek Vigoa to lawsuit vs. Astros
Former major league pitcher Mike Bolsinger amended his lawsuit against the Houston Astros to include Astros owner Jim Crane and baseball-operations staffer Derek Vigoa, according to documents filed in a Los Angeles court Thursday.