BOSTON -- The Yankees have seen glimpses of Gerrit Cole at the top of his game, evident on the days when he struts barrel-chested while working at a speedy pace. Any interruption from a manager or pitching coach invites a growl, his competitive spirit boiling over, body language screaming: how dare you try to take my ball.
That was not the Cole who stood at the center of Fenway Park in the third inning on Tuesday night, pounding his right fist into his glove and kicking at the mound clay. Spotting manager Aaron Boone emerging from the visitors’ dugout, Cole handed over the baseball without argument, unable to solve the Red Sox in a 6-2 defeat in the American League Wild Card Game.
“I’m sick to my stomach,” said Cole, who recorded just six outs and departed with New York trailing, 3-0, matching the shortest start of his career.
Cole’s teams have lost four of his five career “win or go home” contests, including last year’s Game 5 of the AL Division Series against the Rays. Boone said that it was “not easy” to take the ball from his ace, but he believed it was the correct move.
“Especially just how great a pitcher Gerrit is and how much respect I have for him, how much I know he wants it, prepares for it and competes for it -- it's a difficult decision, but I felt like the one I needed to make,” Boone said.
Xander Bogaerts cracked a two-run homer in the first inning and Kyle Schwarber connected for a solo shot in the third inning off Cole, who permitted four hits and two walks while striking out three.
“Just a couple mistakes,” Cole said. “Obviously, Bogaerts, big situation. And a big mistake to Schwarber.”
Schwarber’s homer, Kiké Hernández’s infield single and a walk to Rafael Devers ended Cole’s night. Cameras spotted Cole mouthing, “I’m out,” to catcher Kyle Higashioka as Boone approached the mound.
“I just wanted to stop Kyle,” Cole said. “He was talking about the sequence he wanted to throw to Bogaerts and I just wanted to tell him, ‘Get your mind on Clay, because [Boone] took me out.’”
Boone summoned right-hander Clay Holmes, who struck out Bogaerts and induced Alex Verdugo to hit into a double play.
Cole dealt with a left hamstring injury through much of September, posting a 6.15 ERA over his final five starts of the regular season -- one of which came against the Red Sox in Boston. Boone said that it was “certainly possible” that Cole’s health played a role in the outcome Tuesday.
“He's a gamer and a competitor,” Boone said. “If you go back, he had COVID, came back, had the hamstring. I do think he was sound and capable of going out and pitching like the dominant ace that he is, but I think it's fair that at least the interruptions of his season in the second half with COVID and the hamstring could have contributed some.”
Cole repeatedly has refused to use injuries as an excuse. As his second season in pinstripes concluded, that did not change.
“We’re all going through whatever we've had to overcome to get to this point,” Cole said. “The other team is dealing with the same kind of situation. When it's all said and done, I didn't perform the way I wanted to perform tonight.”