Did Cole seal the Cy? Ace gets ovation in final Bronx start of '23

September 22nd, 2023

NEW YORK -- Every fifth day, the Yankees have enjoyed the luxury of watching at work, witnessing an ace in the prime of his career. It has been a campaign in which the right-hander has seemingly put it all together, a season that likely will be celebrated with his first Cy Young Award.

As Cole made his final Yankee Stadium start of the year on Thursday night, his dominant eight-inning effort quieted any remaining debate over Cole’s front-running status for that honor. He struck out nine, walked none and permitted only two hits in a 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays.

Walking to the dugout after his 107th pitch of the evening, Cole raised his cap to acknowledge a standing ovation from an announced crowd of 37,646.

“That was special for me,” Cole said. “I love pitching at home in front of our fans. We have a lot of fans on the road, too, but there’s just something about having good nights in the Bronx. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

He is the American League’s leader in ERA (2.75), innings pitched (200), starts (32) and WHIP (1.02), all of which put Cole in a good position to fend off Cy Young challenges from the Mariners’ Luis Castillo, the Twins’ Sonny Gray and others.

“It hit me when he was walking off in the eighth and I knew he was done,” manager Aaron Boone said of Cole’s Cy Young chances. “It being his last home regular-season game, it popped in my mind, for sure. I wanted to get my hands on him and let him know just how proud I was of him.”

The Yankees have won each of Cole’s past six starts, dating to Aug. 25, a span over which he’s gone 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA. New York is 22-10 in Cole’s starts this year (and 55-66 in games started by anyone else).

“I was thinking about this during the game today,” said Jake Bauers, who hit a three-run homer in the first inning. “He’s almost so good that you can take it for granted. It’s pretty impressive the way he goes out there every five days and immediately gives you a chance to win the game. There’s not many guys like that in this league.”

For Cole, who recalled growing up in California’s Orange County as a die-hard Yankees fan who would print JPEGs of the “Core Four” off his parents’ iMac, pitching in pinstripes has been a perfect fit.

“My dad would yell at me about wasting ink, but I stapled them up on my wall,” Cole said. “It’s a dream come true.”

Working aggressively and efficiently, Cole retired the first 16 Toronto batters before Alejandro Kirk’s double with one out in the sixth inning broke up his perfect-game bid. Boone said that he took notice of Cole’s sharp repertoire from his first pitch, a cutter that nicked the outside corner for a called strike.

“He was just dialed in,” Boone said. “He was putting it where and how he wanted to, all night. He was just where he wanted to be, over and over again.”

Said catcher Ben Rortvedt: “He’s just extremely in tune with how he is that day, what’s working and what’s not working, and being able to use what he has that day to his advantage. If something’s not on, he’ll find a way around it.”

The offense helped Cole on the other side.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Estevan Florial had back-to-back doubles in the sixth inning, and Aaron Judge contributed with a late RBI double, helping the Yanks snap their three-game losing streak.

But the story, as it has so many times this year, revolved around Cole.

“It’s a testament to everybody’s preparation behind the scenes and my teammates making plays for me,” Cole said.

Added Rortvedt: “All of us playing behind him are trying to back him up as best we can, because we know there’s something special on the line.”

Though Cole appears to be on the doorstep of a Cy Young, an honor he’s twice finished as the runner-up for, there is a bittersweet caveat. His best year as a Yankee thus far appears to be one in which there will be no postseason moments to author.

“It’s disappointing that we’ve had the season we’ve had,” Cole said. “But regardless of if you’re in it or you’re not, as a professional, you’ve just got to do your job. That’s how I’ve approached my whole career.”