Cole 'not quite sharp enough' in loss to Jays

September 30th, 2021

TORONTO -- insists that a heavy workload has not caught up with him, promising that there’s plenty left in the tank. His next assignment will come in a must-win scenario: either in the American League Wild Card Game or the regular season’s final day on short rest, should his services be required.

On Wednesday, however, Cole’s gas wasn’t missing enough bats. The Blue Jays hammered Cole’s fastball for an uncharacteristic five extra-base hits, including home runs by Marcus Semien and Bo Bichette, as the ace’s September slide continued in a 6-5 Yankees loss at Rogers Centre.

“I think we’re running into some really tough teams,” Cole said. “I just was not quite sharp enough today. That’s just the bottom line. I think that I certainly showed the ability to make the pitches that we needed to over the course of the game; I just didn’t make enough of them.”

New York’s seven-game winning streak ended, but the Bombers continue to lead the American League Wild Card chase, holding the top spot by one game over Boston, which won at Baltimore. The Mariners are a half-game behind the Red Sox, with the Blue Jays sitting one game behind Boston.

“I really liked the way our guys competed and battled to get back into that game,” manager Aaron Boone said. “They outlasted us tonight. We’re in a good spot. I feel like the guys are having a lot of fun competing with a lot on the line. That’s where you want to be this time of year.”

Bichette hit his second homer of the game in the eighth inning off reliever Clay Holmes. A midgame comeback took Cole off the hook for the decision, capped by Kyle Higashioka’s two-run, seventh-inning single, but there are questions about how Cole is handling this late stage of the schedule -- especially considering his left hamstring injury earlier in the month.

Wednesday’s six-inning outing clicked his innings odometer to 181 1/3; though Cole said he was prepared to fire 200 innings this season, he only tossed 73 during last year’s shortened campaign. Cole is 2-2 with a 6.15 ERA over his last five starts, a swoon that allowed the Jays’ Robbie Ray to overtake Cole as the favorite for the AL Cy Young Award.

“Physically, I think the velocity is in a good spot,” Cole said. “Things have rebounded well since a couple of those injury mishaps. I’m in a good enough spot to make enough good pitches. I’ve just got to make those pitches at the right times.”

Toronto pounced early, tallying five extra-base hits on fastballs through the first three innings, the most Cole has ever allowed in a game. George Springer hammered Cole’s first pitch for a double and Semien mashed a 97.4 mph heater over the wall in left field, building a quick lead.

“They definitely came out swinging aggressively at the heater,” Higashioka said. “The first two innings set the tone. After that, we reined it in, but by then, the main damage was pretty much done.”

Bichette legged out a first-inning double, Santiago Espinal doubled in the second and Bichette belted a third-inning homer -- all on fastballs. Cole and Higashioka adjusted, shifting to a more changeup-heavy mix.

“I think our game plan to establish the fastball and their plan to jump it kind of matched up together,” Cole said. “It’s not to say that if I don’t execute my pitches better, maybe there’s a better result. Certainly, George was ready for the first pitch and Semien was ready for that mistake.”

Cole’s final run allowed came after a defensive miscue, when Springer’s routine fifth-inning fly ball fell between left fielder Joey Gallo and shortstop Gio Urshela for a double. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. knocked in Springer, doubling on a changeup.

“It’s one of those where Joey’s just got to completely take charge,” Boone said.

The Yankees did battle back. Urshela and Brett Gardner had run-scoring hits in the fifth inning and Aaron Judge lifted a sacrifice fly in the sixth off Toronto starter José Berríos, who permitted three runs and four hits over six innings.

Giancarlo Stanton, whose sizzling bat has carried the Yanks through this stretch, got good wood on an eighth-inning drive that died just in front of the right-center-field wall. Bichette followed by hitting one just a bit further, the difference in the game.

“We just have to keep winning,” Higashioka said. “We’re in control of our destiny right now, so it’s up to us to keep winning. At least we know we’re in a good position.”