Back in SoCal, Cole K's 15 to end Yanks' skid

Right-hander's dominant homecoming snaps New York's 4-game losing streak

September 2nd, 2021

ANAHEIM -- This week has represented a homecoming for Gerrit Cole, who grew up about 15 miles from Angel Stadium, where he regularly attended games as a fan. It is a place where he finds comfort in turning back the clock, even steering the same vehicle into the parking lot -- his battle-tested 2006 Toyota Tacoma.

Amid the potential distractions of teenaged memories and myriad ticket requests from friends and family, Cole kept his blinders on to deliver exactly what his team needed: a dominant 15-strikeout performance, helping the Yankees snap a four-game losing streak with a 4-1 victory over the Angels on Wednesday evening.

“It’s a special day,” Cole said. “It’s always a nice time to come out and see some people back where you’re from. Any player, any person can relate to that. There was a little bit of intensity, trying not to get swept on the road. To do it in front of my family is a cherry on top.”

Cole pointed to catcher Kyle Higashioka and banged his fist against his glove after his final strikeout, ending the seventh inning by pumping a slider past the Halos’ Max Stassi. Cole permitted one run on four hits without a walk, registering his highest strikeout total since joining the Yankees prior to the 2020 season.

“Complete domination,” Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge said. “That’s what we needed out of our ace today, especially after the past couple of games, falling short. He’s our guy. That’s who we want on the mound in any situation we need to come out with a win, and he showed it tonight.”

Cole’s dazzling performance was supported by Luke Voit’s two-run single and a run-scoring hit from Brett Gardner, helping to chase Angels starter Packy Naughton in the fourth. Judge launched his 30th home run of the season, a solo shot, in the eighth inning off Steve Cishek.

Jonathan Loaisiga and Aroldis Chapman logged the final six outs as the Bombers completed an up-and-down 5-4 road swing. New York won its first four games on the trip against Atlanta and Oakland, extending its winning streak to 13 games, before dropping the next four against the A’s and Angels.

“We played a lot of close games,” Voit said. “We need to find ways to get the lead bigger and keep it, not let it get away like we have been in the later innings. Overall, I’m happy with the road trip. West Coast trips at the end of the season are tough. It’s a grind on guys.”

Cole train rolling
Cole has struck out at least 10 batters in nine starts this year, tying David Cone (1998) for the most by a Yankees pitcher in a season. Cole has won each of his four starts since returning from the COVID-19 injured list, allowing two earned runs in 24 2/3 innings (0.73 ERA).

In Higashioka’s eyes, the first hints of a dominant Cole performance came in a less-than-stellar warmup. Higashioka quipped that Cole’s bullpen was “pretty bad,” but that stuff translated into game-time results, generating 32 swing-and-misses from the Angels.

“We were executing really well with four pitches,” Cole said. “I thought that we were unpredictable and able to use the fastball to challenge guys over the plate once we got the lead. That’s helpful.”

Cole struck out two in the first inning, pitched around a leadoff double in the second and hit his stride by the third, when he began a string of six consecutive strikeouts. David Fletcher touched Cole for an RBI double in the sixth, after which Cole mowed down Shohei Ohtani, Phil Gosselin and Jared Walsh in succession on strikeouts.

“I wasn’t keeping track or anything, but you started to realize that a lot of these hitters were striking out,” Higashioka said.

Approaching the dugout after the sixth, Cole locked eyes with Yankees manager Aaron Boone and shook his head, indicating that there was more left in his tank. Entering the seventh at 101 pitches, Cole struck out another two batters in a 1-2-3 inning that ended his night after 116 pitches.

“He’s had some really good ones in his career,” Boone said. “For me, that was up there. That was a guy in control and a step ahead of those guys all day. His fastball was probably as good as it’s been all year.”

Money well spent
In the winter of 2019-20, there was speculation that Cole might prefer pitching for a team closer to Southern California -- perhaps even the Angels, who extended a rich proposal to the celebrated free agent. Cole opted for a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees.

“This is what we paid him to come over here to do,” Voit said.

Wednesday marked Cole’s first start in Orange County since accepting the richest deal ever issued to a free-agent pitcher -- a thought that Judge said crossed his mind while patrolling right field in the first.

“I know he was talking with the Dodgers, [Angels], a couple of other teams,” Judge said. “I was just out in the outfield, thinking, ‘Thank goodness he’s wearing his away jersey right now and not a white-and-red jersey.' He’s that good: a guy that can change a franchise.”