Cole, Yanks lose 'crucial game,' cede ground

September 19th, 2021

NEW YORK -- sat in Yankee Stadium’s home dugout on Sunday, his left palm pressed to his cheek and a glum expression across his face. Late-afternoon shadows encroached upon the playing field, and the scoreboard offered even more evidence that it was getting late.

As the Yankees continue to approach each game as a must-win, Cole endured one of the most disappointing thumpings of his pinstriped career, knocked around for seven runs and 10 hits in an 11-1 loss to the Indians that also dented his chances at the American League Cy Young Award.

“It sucks to lose like this,” Cole said. “It still sucks to not really have a clear and concise answer for what the problem is so you can go ahead and fix it. It’s going to be tough to shower off. It’s not going to be easy. It certainly doesn’t make it any easier to have confidence, but at the same time, we don’t really have a choice.”

The Yankees lost ground in the AL Wild Card chase to the Red Sox and Blue Jays, who won their respective games. New York is 2 1/2 games behind Boston and 1 1/2 games behind Toronto.

Gio Urshela’s third-inning solo homer proved to be all the Yankees could muster against right-hander Eli Morgan, who scattered six hits over six innings. The Yanks have lost 15 of 22 games since their 13-game winning streak last month, including nine of 15 against teams with records under .500.

“We’ve got to get better in a hurry, period,” manager Aaron Boone said. “That wasn’t good enough today. The important thing to remember is that we’re not far off from where we were a couple of weeks ago when we were running them off, but we’ve got to do better than this. That’s an awful couple of days out there.”

In his second start since a left hamstring injury, Cole could not provide the ace-like performance his team was counting on. He was unlucky in the first inning, victimized by a couple of soft hits, but Cleveland hit him hard the rest of the way.

“I just couldn’t get that third out, and couldn’t keep the ball off the bat,” Cole said.

Harold Ramirez cued a two-run single in the first inning, then rapped a two-run single to center field in the third that eluded Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner.

Roberto Pérez laced a run-scoring single in Cleveland’s three-run third inning. José Ramírez tagged Cole for a solo homer in the fifth -- part of a four-hit performance -- and Pérez launched a drive into the left-field bullpen in the sixth.

Cole walked one and struck out seven over 5 2/3 innings, hitting one batter. He heard boos as he left the playing field -- “It’s a bad game, man. That’s New York,” he said -- and huddled with catcher Kyle Higashioka after the outing. Both said they did not believe Cole tipped his pitches.

“I don’t think it looked too different than it has been,” Higashioka said. “We got hurt by some weak contact early, and then it started snowballing. To me, it was just one of those days.”

Fight club
The Yankees went down meekly over the past several innings, most of a crowd of 34,110 already having spilled onto East 161st Street by the time first baseman Anthony Rizzo booted a ninth-inning grounder that allowed Cleveland’s 11th run to score. The final five Yanks batters struck out.

“I know we can do a better job, starting tomorrow,” Urshela said.

New York was outscored, 22-4, in the final two games of the series. Boone maintained that he has no issue with the team’s intensity or preparation.

“Even the energy today: When you’re getting your teeth kicked in again, I didn’t feel like the fight wasn’t in there,” Boone said. “The compete is there. We’ve just got to get the production now.”

‘K’ club
Cole’s seven strikeouts gave him 231 for the season, surpassing Luis Severino (230 in 2017) and CC Sabathia (230 in ‘11) for the third-most by a Yankees pitcher. Only Ron Guidry (248 in 1978) and Jack Chesbro (239 in 1904) have recorded more.

Sunday’s stumble could cost Cole in his Cy Young race against the Blue Jays’ Robbie Ray (12-5, 2.64 ERA), as Cole’s ERA jumped from 2.75 to 3.03. Ray now holds a slight edge in WHIP and opponents’ batting average, too.

“It was a crucial game,” Cole said. “That was too many runs to come back from.”