Gerrit Cole never thought twice about pitching on short rest for the first time in his career. After starting, and winning, Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Rays on Monday, he had his mind set on getting the ball again in Game 5. And on Friday
Gerrit Cole never thought twice about pitching on short rest for the first time in his career. After starting, and winning, Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Rays on Monday, he had his mind set on getting the ball again in Game 5. And on Friday night, he proved that he was up for the challenge.
After escaping a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the first inning, Cole was on cruise control until Austin Meadows clubbed a solo homer with two outs in the fifth. Cole did nearly everything he could to keep his team in the game, fanning nine batters while pitching into the sixth in a 94-pitch effort. Ultimately, the Yankees took a 2-1 loss after Aroldis Chapman allowed an eighth-inning solo homer to Mike Brosseau that ended New York's season.
“Just so proud of [Cole’s] effort,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I mean, it was just a championship, special-player effort.”
It took Cole an inning to settle in. He struck out Meadows to begin the first, but walked Brandon Lowe, plunked Randy Arozarena and forced Ji-Man Choi to ground out before walking the bases loaded. But that’s when Cole buckled down and got Joey Wendle to strike out looking to end the frame.
“I think those first three sprays were some of the pitches that maybe I should’ve backed off the throttle a little bit,” Cole said. “But hey, we came back through the count and made some good pitches.”
The next 3 2/3 innings were seamless. In that span, Cole did not permit a hit and allowed just one baserunner on a fielding error by shortstop Gleyber Torres. Before Meadows’ homer in the fifth, the Yankees’ pitching staff had held 32 consecutive Rays without a hit, an AL record within a single postseason.
But Meadows snapped that streak on a 373-foot home run that just barely got over the wall. Right fielder Aaron Judge thought he had a good chance to rob the long ball, but he banged his head off the overhang at the top of the fence, preventing him from making the play. Of the 29 runs Cole has given up this year (including the postseason), 23 have come via a home run.
“Yeah, I did,” Cole said, when asked if he thought Judge had a chance at making the play. “I don’t think Meadows was sure he got it.”
An inning later, left fielder Brett Gardner spared Cole a second homer. Arozarena sent a deep drive to left, but Gardner leapt at the 8-foot wall to make the catch and preserve the 1-1 tie in the sixth. When Cole looked back toward the dugout, his manager was coming to get him.
“I wanted to face Choi,” Cole said. “I want to get through the rest of the inning, but I was probably out of bullets. So, anytime I can walk away from it not having anything left in the tank, at least that feels good.”
Touching 100 mph with his fastball and averaging 98 mph, Cole became the first pitcher in Yankees history to record eight or more strikeouts in three consecutive postseason starts and the first in MLB history to give up only one hit with nine strikeouts in a postseason winner-take-all game.
“I definitely felt like he was getting to the end of the line there in the fifth,” Boone said. “I felt like maybe his arm slot was dropping a little bit. But he showed his mettle again and who he is by the effort he put out tonight.”
When Cole signed his record-breaking contract with the Yankees last offseason, winning a championship in 2020 was probably one of the first things he envisioned. Although the team came up short of its goal, Cole made quite the first impression in his first year with his new club, owning a 2.84 ERA with 94 strikeouts and a 0.959 WHIP in 73 innings during the regular season and a 2.95 ERA with 30 strikeouts over 18 1/3 innings in the playoffs.
“We continued to get better throughout the year,” Cole said. “I think there's room for improvement. We're always trying to evaluate, always trying to get better. It’s hard for me to say I'm not pleased with how we went about it. There were a lot of challenges dealing with a newborn, being across the country, haven't seen my family. It was really hard at times. I just did the best I could. I will try to get better.”
Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.