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Gerrit Cole immediately distanced himself from the Astros and hinted at leaving in free agency after not pitching in Game 7

Minutes after the World Series ended, Houston Astros ace Gerrit Cole seemed to take a step out the door.

Cole, one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, is a free agent this offseason. Cole did not pitch during the Astros' Game 7 loss to the Washington Nationals. While Cole has not been used in a relief role in MLB, elimination games in baseball are typically "all hands on deck" situations and many expected him to make an appearance.

The Astros' bullpen gave up four runs and five hits over the final two and two-thirds innings. Cole had warmed up in the bullpen but was never used on Wednesday. Cole now heads into the offseason likely to command a nine-figure contract.

After the game, Cole nearly didn't speak to reporters, saying he was not an "employee of the team." He later agreed to speak with reporters but said he was representing himself.

Asked about not pitching, Cole said he was expecting to throw in certain situations, based on the game plan laid out by manager AJ Hinch.

Hinch told reporters after the game that he only wanted to use Cole if the Astros were leading late.

"I wasn't going to pitch him unless we were going to win the World Series and have a lead," Hinch said (via CBS's R.J. Anderson). "He was going to help us win. He was available, and I felt it was a game that he was going to come in had we tied it or taken the lead. He was going to close the game in the ninth after I brought Osuna in had we kept the lead."

Cole was asked about his time in Houston and said it "was" a pleasure — a comment many took as Cole hinting that he will not re-sign with the Astros.

"A lot of great friendships. Learned a lot about pitching from my teammates, from the pitching coaches and pitching staff. Learned a lot more about the game from A.J." Cole said. "And it was just a pleasure to play in the city of Houston."

Cole has already been linked to several big-market teams, like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels. Andy Martino of SNY previously reported that one MLB executive speculated that Cole would earn $33-35 million per year on his next deal.

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