Cole dominates, K's 13 as bats 'come alive'

April 7th, 2021

NEW YORK -- Gerrit Cole watched his final pitch of the night sizzle over home plate, marking the conclusion of what was arguably his most dominant performance so far in Yankees pinstripes. The ace walked to the dugout with a purposeful strut, appearing as though he still had plenty left in the tank.

Bad news for opponents: Cole definitely feels at home. He had everything working in an impressive 13-strikeout gem, scattering four hits without a walk over seven scoreless innings. Jay Bruce and Aaron Judge supplied the power, each homering in a convincing 7-2 victory over the Orioles on Tuesday evening at Yankee Stadium.

“I certainly think I’m more comfortable,” Cole said. “It’s been a lot easier than inserting yourself into a new team in the environment that we had last year. It’s a more normal setting, more normal season, people in the stands. So therefore, I do feel a little more comfortable, for sure.”

Tossing 71 of 97 pitches for strikes and touching 100.5 mph with his fastball, the 13 strikeouts marked Cole’s most in a regular-season game since joining the Yankees, matching his tally from Game 1 of last year’s American League Wild Card Series against the Indians.

“He was impressive. He attacked from the first inning,” Judge said. “That’s what I love to see out of our ace, going out there attacking guys, attacking hitters -- racking up about 13 K's. He could have had a lot more, I think, too. It’s great to see out of his second start.”

Cole’s four-pitch mix was on point, generating 27 swings and misses as he peppered Baltimore's lineup with his fastball (40), slider (23), curveball (21) and changeup (14), painting efficiently to all four quadrants of the strike zone. Cole retired the final 12 O’s that he faced.

“It’s pretty fun when he’s getting big strikeouts to end [the] inning, getting fired up,” said catcher Kyle Higashioka, again paired with Cole after Gary Sánchez was behind the plate on Opening Day. “When we punch a guy out to end the inning and the fans go wild, I definitely missed that.”

With his father Mark, mother Sharon and sister Erin in attendance, Cole became the sixth Yankee (seventh time) to toss seven or more scoreless innings with no walks and 13 or more strikeouts, and the first since Masahiro Tanaka fanned 15 on Sept. 29, 2017, vs. Toronto.

“I thought that we kept them off balance and made a lot of good pitches,” Cole said. “I came in the zone sometimes when they weren’t expecting, and got them to chase off good pitches back to back.”

Play at the plate
They didn’t realize it at the time, but the Orioles’ best opportunity against Cole came in the first inning, when leadoff hitter Cedric Mullins singled, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch.

With the infield playing in, Anthony Santander chopped a ball to first base that Bruce picked cleanly. Bruce is gaining comfort at the position and he looked natural in firing home to Higashioka, who tagged out Mullins.

“I don’t know if there are a lot of easy plays for me over there,” Bruce said. “I’m definitely getting more used to it. It’s starting to slow down for me.”

Going deep
New York managed three runs in three-plus innings against Orioles starter Dean Kremer, who escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the first inning without damage. Bruce cleared the short porch in right field for his first Yankees homer in the second inning.

“I’ve hit a few here before, but not as a Yankee,” Bruce said. “It’s good to jog around the bases and get us on the board early in the game.”

All rise
Another bases-loaded, none-out setup in the fourth yielded two runs, with DJ LeMahieu grounding into a double play before Judge lined a clean RBI single to right field.

“I really tried to lock in, especially with guys on base,” Judge said. “All I was saying was, just get another one on the board. The more runs we can get for Big G [Cole], the more he can go to work.”

Giancarlo Stanton added a run-scoring double in the seventh and Judge broke the contest wide open by mashing a three-run homer in the eighth, his second homer in as many games.

The Yankees were one out away from completing their second consecutive shutout. A replay review upheld Ryan Mountcastle’s ninth-inning hit, before Rio Ruiz lifted a two-run homer off Lucas Luetge. The lefty recovered to seal the Yanks’ 25th victory in 28 tries against the O’s, dating to April 4, 2019.

“It seems like our bats are coming alive and the pitching is going great,” Higashioka said.