ST. PETERSBURG -- Gerrit Cole claims that his vision covers only the five days between each assignment on the mound, explaining that those bite-size chunks are the only way he can navigate a big league season.
But as the Yankees’ ace puts the finishing touches on one of his best campaigns, it’s impossible for the rest of us not to think ahead to the hardware that could be in his future. Cole sharpened his front-running case for the American League Cy Young Award as the Yankees defeated the Rays, 6-2, on Friday evening at Tropicana Field.
“It would be unbelievable,” Cole said. “So many people put hard work into it. It would be a blessing to represent the organization with that award and to represent the hard work that’s gone on behind the scenes, from the catchers and pitching staff to the coaching staff and everybody that’s an advocate for me and pours into me.
“But I’ve got to shower this off and get ready for Detroit next week. That’s the most important thing. That’s all I know how to do.”
The Yankees have not had a Cy Young Award winner since Roger Clemens in 2001. The AL’s leader in ERA (2.95) and innings pitched (168), Cole rebounded from a rough start against the Red Sox his last time out, limiting Tampa Bay to two runs (one earned) over 7 2/3 strong frames.
Cole explained that he made mechanical adjustments this week after getting “some help from a friend of mine who pointed me in the right direction,” adding, “He’s probably going to be in the Hall of Fame one day.” (Justin Verlander seems to be a solid educated guess.)
“There’s just been some inconsistency getting through the ball, and trying to figure how in the delivery I can give myself an opportunity to put more pure spin through the ball,” Cole said. “I worked hard on that this week. It doesn’t always work out where you see the results right away, but the results were definitely there. It was a good adjustment.”
Cole was supported by DJ LeMahieu, who belted solo homers in the fifth and eighth innings, enjoying his first multihomer game since May 7, 2021, vs. Washington. LeMahieu said that the Bombers’ infield seems to find higher focus playing behind Cole, recognizing that the ace is chasing something significant.
“I’m locked in all the time, but these last couple of outings, playing on defense when he’s pitching -- you really want to lock in for him,” LeMahieu said. “He’s doing something special out there this year. The next three, four, five starts, however many he has, just lock it in and make every out possible for him.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone believes Friday’s outing was one of Cole’s best all-around performances of the year. After removing Cole with two outs in the eighth inning, Boone told Cole: “That’s about as good as I’ve seen, right there.”
“There’s still a ways to go, but he’s in the middle of a really special season,” Boone said.
Cole allowed three hits without a walk, striking out 11. Yandy Díaz touched the righty for a solo homer in the sixth, and Tampa Bay pushed across an unearned run against reliever Jonathan Loáisiga in the eighth, but Cole still exited The Trop having yielded two runs or fewer for the 20th time this season. That’s the most in the Majors, one more than the Padres’ Blake Snell.
With the Astros’ Framber Valdez and the Blue Jays’ Kevin Gausman forecast as Cole’s main competition, the 32-year-old is contending for his first Cy Young Award following several close calls. Cole finished second in the AL Cy Young balloting in 2019 and ‘21, and he has had three other top-five finishes in Cy voting.
“You’re always trying to get better,” Cole said. “Father Time catches up to us somehow, but we can always adjust and figure out what we need to do to stay at that top level.”
LeMahieu’s homers came off Rays starter Zach Eflin and reliever Trevor Kelley. Giancarlo Stanton contributed a two-run double for the Yankees, who have won two of three following a nine-game losing streak. Everson Pereira and Gleyber Torres also drove in runs.
“It was nice to get this series started off right,” Cole said. “It was a good team effort tonight.”