Cole tossed after near K of Verdugo results in HR

September 24th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Gerrit Cole was already done for the night as he walked off the Yankee Stadium mound in the sixth inning of Friday’s 5-4 win over the Red Sox with 103 pitches under his belt. But instead of celebrating a strikeout of J.D. Martinez, he spent the walk back to the dugout yelling at home-plate umpire Brian Knight about a call that he disagreed with in the previous at-bat, what he perceived to be a missed strike three call that would have led to an inning-ending punchout.

The turn of events was stunning for the Yankees’ 32-year-old ace. Cole had wheeled and dealed his way through the Red Sox’s lineup to the tune of seven strikeouts and only one run allowed. But after Knight called Cole’s 1-2 pitch that missed the bottom outside corner of the strike zone a ball, Alex Verdugo took him deep on the next pitch, smoking a 99.5 mph middle-middle fastball to right-center field for a game-tying three-run homer.

Cole let his frustration out on Knight and was handed his first career ejection. Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who quickly came to Cole’s defense, was also tossed from the contest.

“It’s obviously just an emotional moment,” Cole said. “I’m just a competitor. I’m just upset. It’s the worst pitch of the sequence. … The damage there is hard to swallow.”

Instead of a quality start, Cole was sent to the showers with his ERA having risen to 3.49, which would be his highest since he posted a 4.26 mark in his final year with the Pirates in 2017. He has given up four runs in each of his last three outings.

Verdugo, for his part, didn’t think Cole had a case to be mad with Knight.

“It wasn’t even close. He can complain all he wants. The goal of this game is to throw it over the white plate,” Verdugo said. “He gets a lot of pitches out of the zone and, yeah, he wanted it. Big pitch, big situation, he wanted it, but the umpire got that call right.”

Catcher Jose Trevino, who delivered the Yankees’ go-ahead run with an eighth-inning single, has a reputation for being adept at pitch framing, and in his experience, close calls can go either way depending on the game in question.

“As a catcher, you want that pitch. As a pitcher, you want that pitch,” Trevino said. “As a hitter, you get another pitch to live. In that kind of situation, we’d like a strike there.”

Given the tense moment in a tied game between the two heated rivals, Boone felt the need to step in to protect both Cole and Trevino, who had started to get into it with Knight as well. That led to the skipper’s ninth ejection of the season, which is the most for a manager since the Braves’ Bobby Cox in 2007. Cox is also tied for the most all-time managerial ejections in a single season, after being tossed 11 times in 2001; he is joined by John McGraw (twice), Bill Dahlen and Paul Richards atop that particular list.

For Cole, the home run to Verdugo was his second allowed on the night, following Tommy Pham’s solo shot in the first inning. Cole has given up an American League-high 31 homers on the season, second to the Nationals’ Josiah Gray (37) for the most in the Majors.

“It’s stunning that they hit his mistakes in the seats this year,” Boone said. “He was so good tonight. That’s what makes it tough. … I thought he was as dialed in as you could be. I thought his body language was great all night. I thought his execution on both sides of the plate with his fastball, he wasn’t overthrowing it. I thought he used his curveball really effectively. And he’s a pitch away from just having an awesome outing.”

Though Cole didn’t earn that particular strikeout call, his ensuing punchout of Martinez gave him eight on the night and increased his total to 244 strikeouts on the year, which puts him four shy of tying Ron Guidry’s 1978 record for the most by a Yankees pitcher in a single season.

“I thought there were several pitches that were on the edge. Sometimes they’re 50/50,” Cole said. “I’ve done a pretty good job in my career of not losing my cool like that. Made it quite a while without an ejection. So I just let the emotions get the better of me.”