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Cole as advertised as Yanks take '20 opener

@BryanHoch
July 24, 2020

WASHINGTON -- As the visitors’ dugout at Nationals Park flooded with rainwater and persistent thundercracks prompted Gerrit Cole to realize that he had likely thrown his final pitch of the evening, the new Yankees ace reached for his cell phone and tapped out a text message to his wife, Amy:

WASHINGTON -- As the visitors’ dugout at Nationals Park flooded with rainwater and persistent thundercracks prompted Gerrit Cole to realize that he had likely thrown his final pitch of the evening, the new Yankees ace reached for his cell phone and tapped out a text message to his wife, Amy: “I can’t believe I’m going to get a complete-game one-hitter in the debut!”

Dating back to his California childhood, Cole had envisioned buttoning the road-gray uniform with “NEW YORK” stitched across the chest, pitching his favorite team to victory. Even though little else in this pandemic-altered year has gone according to plan, the Yankees’ rain-shortened 4-1 victory over the Nationals on Thursday night prompted Cole to consider his Opening Night mission accomplished.

Box score

“I was so excited,” Cole said. “I was walking through the clubhouse before, and I saw a bunch of guys in Yankees uniforms; I don't know, it just hit me that this was for real. I was definitely battling some adrenaline early. I had so much fun being a part of it.”

The 29-year-old right-hander struck out five and walked one in a 75-pitch effort before play was halted with one out in the top of the sixth inning. Adam Eaton’s first-inning homer served as the lone blemish for Cole, who agreed to a record-shattering nine-year, $324 million contract in December.

“It was really good to see him out there,” said manager Aaron Boone. “I really felt like he improved as we went along and kind of reined it in a little bit. I think he was probably battling all the excitement, all the buildup to this day. I thought he made a lot of really big pitches, especially some pitches when he was behind in the count that were critical for him.”

Members of both teams participated in a moment of unity prior to the national anthem, kneeling in recognition of the social justice movement. The game was called shortly before 11 p.m. ET, following a delay of 1 hour, 58 minutes.

As Cole prepared to throw his inaugural pitch, Giancarlo Stanton provided the right-hander with a lead, crushing a two-run homer to left-center field off Nationals ace Max Scherzer in the top of the first inning. Stanton’s blast traveled 459 feet, according to Statcast.

“It was good to get a bead on his fastball,” Stanton said. “It was good to be on time for that. You’ve got to be ready to go, home or away, full crowd or not. For me, it was just about being locked in.”

Cole barked into his glove as he departed the field in the first inning, having surrendered Eaton’s home run, then settled in. After hitting Eric Thames to begin the second inning, Cole retired 10 consecutive Nationals before issuing a one-out walk to Asdrubal Cabrera in the fifth.

“Every time I have the opportunity to catch him, it's just impressive,” catcher Gary Sánchez said through an interpreter. “Every single time I'm behind the plate, it's impressive to see how easy he makes my job. He's always attacking hitters, always following the plan. It just makes my job really easy.”

Back-to-back strikeouts ended the Washington fifth, and Cole expected to pitch at least two more innings when the rain came.

“I felt like I started to string together three, four, five, six pitches well located in a row toward the fourth [inning] and, really, the last inning,” Cole said. “The last batter [Victor Robles], I threw everything where I wanted to. I was excited to go back out for the sixth but, you know, I'll take it.”

Scherzer was dominant at times, striking out 11 against four walks, but the Yankees tallied four runs and six hits against the three-time Cy Young Award winner.

Aaron Judge doubled home New York’s third run in the third inning, with Tyler Wade dashing 270 feet to score from first base. The club’s speediest player, Wade received the Opening Day nod at second base in place of DJ LeMahieu, who was a late arrival to Summer Camp after testing positive for the coronavirus.

“If he can get on base enough, he's a guy that can really affect the game,” Boone said. “With his versatility, he has a chance to be really valuable for us this year.”

Wade’s wheels also helped to build a fifth-inning rally against Scherzer, as he reached on a bunt single to place two runners aboard with no outs. Stanton cashed another RBI later that inning by lining an opposite-field, bases-loaded single to right field, scoring Gio Urshela with a run that would ultimately help Cole beam that improbable first-game text message.

“I mean, it was just a lot of fun,” Cole said. “Probably no one could have envisioned the type of year that we're having this year, but within those parameters, it exceeded every mark. I just had a blast, really.”

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.