Yanks miss chances, fall to Jays in opener

Cole laments one bad pitch; Judge, bats struggle with runners in scoring position

April 1st, 2021

NEW YORK -- handed the ball to his manager atop the mound and stomped across the Yankee Stadium infield on Thursday afternoon, ignoring the waves of polite applause flowing from the grandstands. The Yankees’ ace was intent upon taking his frustrations out on the padded dugout bench.

Cole wanted one pitch back, a hanging sixth-inning slider that Teoscar Hernández belted over the left-field wall, and his teammates could commiserate over regrets of their own. Gary Sánchez homered, but the Bombers went hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position, absorbing a 3-2, 10-inning loss to the Blue Jays on Opening Day.

“I just want that slider back,” Cole said. “It was such a bad pitch. I just wanted to finish a little better and obviously to have held the lead there.”

The game remained deadlocked until the 10th, when Randal Grichuk’s run-scoring double off Nick Nelson eluded right fielder to push across pinch-runner Jonathan Davis with the deciding run. Manager Aaron Boone believed that the Yankees were set up to celebrate a walk-off victory one half-inning earlier, thanks in large part to Mike Tauchman’s daring baserunning.

Tauchman came off the bench to pinch-run for Sánchez and promptly stole second and third, with Clint Frazier working a walk that placed runners at the corners with one out. DJ LeMahieu tapped a grounder to third baseman Cavan Biggio that erased Tauchman at the plate on a fielder’s choice, and Judge struck out to send the game into extra frames.

“They made the pitches today; we just couldn’t break through with a big hit,” Boone said. “We had our chances. I thought we pitched the ball pretty well and made the plays. We gave ourselves opportunities. If we continue to do that, we’ll break through.”

It was a rough afternoon for Judge, who heard boos after the ninth-inning whiff, also having bounced into an inning-ending double play in the seventh inning to waste a bases-loaded threat.

“It’s part of it; those fans want to watch winners,” Judge said. “They let us know when we don’t do our job, and we didn’t do our job today. It was quite a few opportunities, especially me at the plate with guys in scoring position. I could have given us a lead or done something. We just didn’t execute.”

With Yankee Stadium’s capacity capped at 20 percent, a paid crowd of 10,850 opened the day in a celebratory mood, cheering wildly as Cole made his pregame trek to the bullpen across the outfield. Among those applauding in the 43-degree conditions were Cole’s parents, his wife, Amy, and their young son, Caden.

“Just to feel the energy of the people in the park was welcome,” Cole said. “My family being here after not being able to see much last year means a lot. It was quite cold early, but it shaped up to be a pretty pleasant day for the most part -- outside of the loss.”

Toronto opened the scoring, with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. stroking a second-inning RBI single off Cole. Sánchez answered in the home half of the inning, jumping on a Hyun Jin Ryu four-seamer to mash a 407-foot blast over the left-field fence and deposit a lead into his ace’s back pocket.

“It feels good to get going this way,” Sánchez said through a translator.

Working together in a non-spring game for the first time since last Aug. 31, Cole and Sánchez seemed to be on the same page. Cole struck out eight, one shy of Tim Leary’s club Opening Day mark of nine, scattering five hits and permitting two walks in a 97-pitch effort.

“I thought it was a good game,” Sánchez said. “There was one pitch there to Teoscar that he left in the zone, but when he was commanding his pitches, he looked really good to me.”

Cole recorded the first out of the sixth inning, striking out Bo Bichette, then spun the slider in the heart of the zone that Hernández pummeled over the left-field wall. Homers were an accepted part of Cole’s game last year -- and given the Yanks’ imposing lineup, two runs should have been nothing to fret over.

But the Bombers were held mostly silent, and the Yanks were left wishing for a do-over.

“Every single game matters,” Judge said. “Dropping this first one is tough, but we’ve got to regroup on [Friday’s] off-day and come back to it on Saturday.”