Cole outdone by Yanks' rumored Deadline target

August 3rd, 2022

NEW YORK -- On Wednesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, there was a distinct sense of “what could have been” in the air.

Less than 24 hours after MLB’s Trade Deadline passed, Yankees ace Gerrit Cole and recent Mariners acquisition Luis Castillo toed the rubber in a matchup of two of the most dominant starters in the Majors. For weeks, it was rumored that the two could become teammates, making up a devastating 1-2 tandem that could have carried the Yanks well into October.

The Mariners landed the first punch on Saturday when they pulled the rug out from under the Yankees. They delivered the knockout blow on Wednesday as the Yankees dropped a 7-3 series-deciding contest to Seattle.

In the finale of the three-game set, Castillo proved why he was regarded as the top pitching option on the market, befuddling Yankees hitters for six innings until Kyle Higashioka’s two-run homer on his 109th and final pitch skewed his overall line. Cole, on the other hand, put together one of his more perplexing performances, allowing six runs on three homers in the first inning -- the most runs he has allowed in any frame in his career.

Behind that start, it was just the fourth time this season that the Yankees have lost a game by more than three runs. The result snapped a streak of nine consecutive series victories for the Yanks over the Mariners, dating back to Aug. 22, 2016.

“It was just a tough inning where he was struggling to find his command and his rhythm and getting all his pitches,” said manager Aaron Boone. “We’ve got to find a way to -- when you’re going through a little struggle -- limit some damage. That’s hurt us from time to time here of late in some of our starts, where those crooked numbers are getting us.”

In that opening frame, Cole allowed every Mariner to enter the box, not recording an out until his sixth batter faced. That strikeout of Kyle Lewis was the 500th of his Yankees tenure.

By that point, Cole had already given up a three-run homer to Eugenio Suárez and a subsequent solo shot to Carlos Santana. Jarred Kelenic then followed up Lewis’ punchout by going yard, hitting a two-run blast.

“He was struggling to really execute at his level in that inning,” Boone said, “and they made him pay with slug right out of the gate.”

Castillo, meanwhile, was putting up zeroes. Though he wasn’t quite as dominant as when he visited Yankee Stadium with the Reds on July 14, when he gave up just two hits (one run) while striking out eight across seven innings, Castillo displayed all that the Yanks had missed out on.

Even he knew about the possibility that this start could have been in pinstripes.

“In my mind, yes, because they were one of the teams that was very interested in me,” Castillo said. “But I’m here with the Mariners now, and I’ve just got to keep moving forward.”

After the first inning, Cole settled in and did not allow another run, striking out three batters in both the third and fifth innings -- the latter of which came only one pitch away from an immaculate inning. Still, it was his second-most runs allowed in a game this season, following an uncharacteristic seven-run undoing against the Twins on June 9.

In that contest, however, Cole was knocked out after just 2 1/3 innings. On Wednesday, he hung around long enough to give the Yankees six frames on 103 pitches.

“You’ve got to be able to weather blows and deal with punches and deal with shots, and it was good to see him put his foot down,” Boone said, “and on a day where clearly you’re frustrated that you have that kind of inning, to be able to turn it around and go give us six innings, there’s something to be said for that.”

But on a day when the opposing pitcher outperformed the team’s ace, it became crystal clear that the Yankees’ rotation needs more from its No. 1. Cole knows that better than anyone.

“It’s kind of hard to believe how much it just blows up so quick,” Cole said. “But I’m trying to be excellent out there, and I’m obviously not. The game is letting us know we’re not there. So we’ve got to keep grinding on it.

“It doesn’t feel good. We let a series get away from us, and it’s because of a very poor first inning today, and that’s on me.”