'Whatever it takes': Cole, IKF fuel DH sweep

September 8th, 2022

NEW YORK -- The conversation took place after the sixth inning on Wednesday, when Gerrit Cole had already pumped more than 100 pitches toward the strike zone, signs of fatigue having set off blinking yellow caution lights in the dugout. The Yankees’ ace was asked if he could continue, and he nodded, telling manager Aaron Boone: “Whatever you need.”

It was almost a word-for-word echo of what Isiah Kiner-Falefa offered five days ago, upon being informed that rookie Oswald Peraza might cut into his playing time. Then, too, the promise was to provide whatever the team needed. On this night, Cole and Kiner-Falefa delivered, leading the Yankees to a 7-1 win over the Twins that completed a doubleheader sweep.

“It just makes for a great day,” said Cole, who registered a season-high 14 strikeouts and now leads the Majors with 218. “It would have been a really, really tough one if we were on the other end of this.”

After Oswaldo Cabrera punched a 12th-inning single to seal a 5-4 walk-off win in the opener that featured Aaron Judge’s MLB-leading 55th homer, Cole was supported by Kiner-Falefa’s fourth-inning grand slam -- his third home run of the season, second of the series and the first bases-loaded homer of his big league career.

That invited Cole to put the hammer down against the Twins, an opponent the Yankees have been pasting for the better part of two decades. Cole was dominant in registering his 20th double-digit strikeout game as a Yankee -- already tied with CC Sabathia for the third most in franchise history, behind only Ron Guidry (23) and David Cone (21).

“I thought his stuff was really good,” Boone said. “To be able to complete almost seven [innings] for us in a game where we were thin back there [in the bullpen], it was just what we needed.”

It did not start that way; Cole wobbled through the first three innings, requiring 65 pitches -- including a flat slider that Carlos Correa pounded over the left-field wall for a solo homer. But then came Kiner-Falefa’s slam off Joe Ryan, an exclamation point on a day that had already seen Kiner-Falefa rip a game-tying hit and make some nice defensive plays in the opener.

“Last year, I was on a 100-loss team, so just to have an opportunity to make a postseason run on this team and be part of it means the world to me,” said Kiner-Falefa. “So whatever it takes to win, that’s all I care about.”

There’s that mantra again, and it makes the job easier for Boone, who made sure to state publicly and privately that Kiner-Falefa would remain the starting shortstop. There’s a welcome wrinkle in that equation: At the tender age of 22 and with the lineup ravaged by injury, Peraza has already shown enough to demand that he not spend September collecting bench splinters.

There are defensive alignments that should offer Kiner-Falefa playing time even if Peraza is in the lineup; though Kiner-Falefa said he has not taken a ground ball at third base since 2020, the muscle memory seemed to return quickly for him on Wednesday. That abbreviated campaign, of course, saw him win an AL Gold Glove at that position.

“I just figure as much work as I’ve put in at shortstop, it’s the one position where if you play it, you can move around,” Kiner-Falefa said.

So Cole had a three-run lead in his pocket as Boone approached during the home half of the sixth inning. Boone said he sensed Cole was “on fumes,” but asked anyway: Can you keep going? Sure, came the response -- and Cole did, striking out Jake Cave to make it a baker’s dozen, then whiffing Gilberto Celestino for No. 14.

“I just think our sequencing was good, and our execution of those sequences were good,” Cole said.

A Sandy León single chased Cole, who exited with the top of the order coming up, raising his right hand to the brim of his cap to acknowledge a standing ovation. He’d watch from the clubhouse as Aaron Hicks ripped a bases-clearing double in the eighth to bust the game open, Hicks’ first extra-base hit since July 9. He, too, is now in the “whatever the team needs” club.

“It’s going to take everybody,” Cole said. “It’s going to take guys that aren’t even in the room to get where we want to get. We just try to live by that motto and score one more run than the other team.”