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From HS to MLB: Cole wins 100th with Higgy

@BryanHoch
September 17, 2020

NEW YORK -- The pairing of Gerrit Cole and Kyle Higashioka has appeared to be a natural fit, though considering their shared Southern California roots, that shouldn’t be a surprise. The battery that produced the ace’s 100th career victory on Wednesday has been years in the making. Once teammates during

NEW YORK -- The pairing of Gerrit Cole and Kyle Higashioka has appeared to be a natural fit, though considering their shared Southern California roots, that shouldn’t be a surprise. The battery that produced the ace’s 100th career victory on Wednesday has been years in the making.

Once teammates during their respective high school careers, Cole and Higashioka have reunited on baseball’s biggest stage, working with aplomb during Wednesday’s 13-2 rout of the Blue Jays. It also may have offered a preview of how the lineup could look for Cole’s Yankees playoff debut.

“It's been fun to throw to Kyle; I was throwing to Kyle when I was like 13 or 14,” Cole said. “It’s kind of a trip. I think at this point, with the way he's swinging, I may be his personal pitcher.”

Wednesday marked the third consecutive start that Cole has been paired with Higashioka, who celebrated the first three-homer game of his career. Long before they were granted entry to big league clubhouses, Cole and Higashioka took the field together as members of an Angels scout team in Orange County.

Cole attended Orange Lutheran High in Orange, Calif., while Higashioka took classes at nearby Edison High in Huntington Beach, Calif. Cole and Higashioka played together on a squad that also carried a switch-hitting outfielder from Long Beach, Calif., named Aaron Hicks.

“We've actually known each other for a while,” Higashioka said. “In the beginning, it was just cool to see a familiar face. I think we have a pretty good understanding of how each other likes to attack the hitters. I think it's just a constant dialogue that helps us be on the same page.”

On Wednesday, Cole held the Jays hitless until Jonathan Villar’s sixth-inning double, scattering three hits over seven sharp frames. Cole became the 38th pitcher in history to reach 100 wins within his first 203 appearances, and just the 13th since 1960. He’s the fourth since the turn of the century, joining Justin Verlander, Roy Oswalt and Mark Mulder.

“I'm really thankful to be able to do it in a Yankees uniform,” Cole said. “It's a special number. This is a special team, and a lot of special things happen here. I’m blessed to be able to stay healthy enough to take the ball that many times and play on enough good teams along the way that supported me.”

Since being paired with Higashioka for a Sept. 5 start at Camden Yards, the right-hander has pitched to an 0.90 ERA, permitting two earned runs over 20 innings. Cole has limited opponents to nine hits with five walks and 27 strikeouts, facing the Orioles twice and the Blue Jays once.

“He’s just so engaged,” Cole said of Higashioka. “It seems to be a common theme with good players; they're prepared when they go in. I think he's really good with his reads behind the dish. He's a great communicator, and he's swinging a hot stick.”

Though Cole has praised Gary Sánchez’s game-calling and work ethic on numerous occasions, manager Aaron Boone has said that keeping Cole and Higashioka together could be in play for the postseason. Cole has clicked with backup catchers before; last season with the Astros, he enjoyed great success with Martin Maldonado.

“I think all three of our catchers do a great job behind the plate,” Cole said. “The communication has been good, and the confidence has been good as well as of late. But I also think I'm just settling in and executing more pitches. If we just keep throwing good pitches out there, then good things happen.”

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