TORONTO -- All that’s left to do now is count the ballots.
Backed by a pair of Aaron Judge homers, Cole permitted just two hits in a sparkling 105-pitch effort, concluding his campaign with a 15-4 record and an American League-best 2.63 ERA. Only the Padres’ Blake Snell (2.25) has a lower ERA across the Majors.
“I just try to go out there and give [the team] the best chance to win I possibly can that day, and leave it all on the field,” Cole said. “That’s my goal going into every season. You need a lot of help from your teammates in order to have success.”
Seeking to become the first Yankee to win a Cy Young Award since Roger Clemens in 2001, the 33-year-old Cole provided what Judge called “the cherry on top of an incredible season.” Cole leads the AL in innings (209), WHIP (0.98) and opponents’ batting average (.206), while his 222 strikeouts rank third in the AL.
On Wednesday, the remarkably durable Cole also became the 12th active pitcher to make 300 career starts, while helping the Yanks (81-77) secure their 31st consecutive non-losing season.
“He’s the best pitcher in the game,” Judge said. “This is Gerrit Cole’s era, that’s for sure. He’s the benchmark for what an ace is supposed to be like, on and off the field.”
Judge cracked his 36th and 37th home runs, hitting a two-run long ball off José Berríos in the fourth inning and launching another two-run blast off Trevor Richards in the seventh. Giancarlo Stanton also supported Cole’s effort with a two-run single.
“It’s kind of fitting that Aaron has that night on the night Gerrit probably locks up the Cy Young Award,” manager Aaron Boone said. “It’s fun to watch two great players do their thing.”
The Yankees won each of Cole’s final seven starts, as the right-hander went 5-0 with a 1.29 ERA (7 ER, 48 2/3 IP) and 52 strikeouts. New York won 23 of his 33 starts overall.
With the team out of the postseason chase, Cole said that he sensed that talk about the Cy Young Award fueled his teammates. Indeed, Judge acknowledged that hitting coach Sean Casey opened a meeting on Wednesday by reminding the lineup: “We get this guy one run, we’re going to win the ballgame.”
Cole is usually steely on the day of his starts. As he paced to his locker with earbuds in and a heavily annotated Blue Jays scouting report in hand before the game, Judge noticed a more focused glint in his teammate’s eyes.
“The minute I saw him coming to the clubhouse, I knew it was going to be a good night,” Judge said. “He wanted to finish business.”
Cole admitted that he’d spent the past week or so pretending that he was in the playoffs.
“Starting Game 1, maybe Game 5, something like that,” Cole said. “I had a little bit of fun with that to bring some energy. If that created a little different look in my eyes, maybe I should do that more often.”
Blue Jays manager John Schneider said that Cole “got better as the game went on.” Brandon Belt notched Toronto’s only hits off Cole, stroking a double in the second inning and a single in the seventh. As Cole returned to the dugout following the latter inning, Boone kept his distance.
“I wasn’t really looking at him in the seventh or eighth,” Boone said. “That was his game.”
As Cole huddled with pitching coach Matt Blake after the eighth inning, the bullpen was quiet. Blake asked Cole if he was good for the ninth, and Cole flipped the question around: “Do you think I’m good?” Blake replied: “Yeah, I think you’re pretty good.”
A dozen pitches later, Cole finished off the Jays, almost certainly claiming the Cy -- though he didn’t do it alone.
“I’m just very grateful for my teammates,” Cole said. “In the 33 games that I was able to play this year, they showed up every single time. After some of our collective hopes fell by the wayside, it motivated them to continue to play hard. … When I look back at it, I just think about the hard work from everybody. I’m just very grateful.”