Though it came as no surprise to any of the parties involved, that was the moment when manager Aaron Boone locked eyes with Cole, grinning and telling the ace right-hander: “You’re going tomorrow.”
“It’s a special opportunity,” Cole said. “I think everybody’s feeling like it’s going to be a special game, a big game for us. It’s not going to take one guy to win it; it’s going to have to be a complete team game, much like most of our wins are.”
Friday’s assignment will mark the first time in Cole’s professional career that he has been asked to pitch on short rest -- in this case, it will have been three days since he limited Tampa Bay to three runs and six hits over six innings in Monday’s Game 1, firing 97 pitches.
Tampa Bay will counter with right-hander Tyler Glasnow, also on short rest after starting in Tuesday night’s Game 2. It will be a rematch of last year’s ALDS Game 5, when Cole was with the Astros, who are waiting for the victor in the ALCS. Per Elias, only one other pair of starting pitchers has met in multiple winner-take-all games, and they also did it in consecutive years (Lew Burdette and Don Larsen in 1957 and 1958 World Series Game 7).
Cole said that he began preparing for the possibility of pitching twice in the ALDS immediately after Game 1, reaching out to several hurlers with experience -- Cole mentioned CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke and Dallas Keuchel among his network of contacts.
“It’s not something that’s probably sustainable for the whole season, but certainly the human body is capable of doing it,” Cole said. “It just kind of is what it is. You’ve got to go out and do your job. When the lights turn on, it doesn’t matter if it’s three, four, or five days. You’re going to have to do your job.”
Boone said that when Cole walked past his office in the visiting clubhouse prior to Game 4, they shared a very brief conversation. When Boone offered a hello, Cole replied, “Just give me the ball,” according to the manager.
“I'm excited to see him go pitch, there's no question,” Boone said. “I know he's excited to get the ball with the opportunity to help us move on. To be able to hand the ball to probably the best pitcher in the game, there's some comfort in that.”
Cole is in the first year of a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees, the richest deal issued to a free-agent pitcher. As slugger Luke Voit said moments after the conclusion of Game 4, Cole was brought to New York for exactly this kind of challenge.
"That's why we gave him all that money," Voit said. “He’s a stone-cold killer out there. That’s the guy I want on the mound.”