CLEVELAND -- By the seventh inning on Sunday, as waves of fatigue began to crash in Gerrit Cole’s prized right arm and legs, the right-hander had already achieved his stated objective of cutting through noise and finding his postseason focus. He had answered the call in a critical win-or-else scenario, needing a win to keep the Yankees’ season alive.
Still, Cole dug for more, vowing to leave no ounce of adrenaline unused. Cole pumped his 110th and final pitch of the night through the strike zone, celebrating his eighth strikeout with a fist pump and primal roar. With his team’s back against the wall, the $324 million man had delivered, leading the Yankees to a 4-2 Game 4 victory over the Guardians at Progressive Field.
“When they told me I was going Game 4, you know there’s an opportunity to clinch or go home,” Cole said. “I didn’t approach the game any different. I just went out there and did my job.”
He sure did. Clay Holmes and Wandy Peralta split the final six outs to ensure the Guardians and Yankees will play Game 5 on Monday at Yankee Stadium, with a trip to meet the Astros in the AL Championship Series on the line. First pitch is set for 7:07 p.m. ET, with New York’s Jameson Taillon set to oppose Cleveland’s Aaron Civale.
“We're ready for it. It’s a big opportunity,” Taillon said. “Props to Gerrit for just pushing the ball forward, getting us back home. We go back with a rested bullpen, and I'm ready to go.”
In the history of best-of-five postseason series, teams trailing 2-1 that won Game 4 to stay alive went on to also win Game 5 in 26 of 47 instances (55%). However, in all winner-take-all postseason games, true home teams (excluding neutral-site games) have gone only 61-63 (.492), including 0-1 this year (Mets vs. Padres in Game 3 of the NL Wild Card Series).
Harrison Bader hit his third homer of the ALDS, a two-run shot in the second inning off Guardians starter Cal Quantrill, who permitted three runs over five innings. Anthony Rizzo also had a run-scoring single off Quantrill, and Giancarlo Stanton lifted a sixth-inning sacrifice fly facing Eli Morgan.
That would be enough support for Cole, who has notched both of the Yankees’ wins in this series, having also outpitched Quantrill in Game 1. Cole is now one of three active pitchers with 10 or more postseason wins, joining Justin Verlander (14) and Clayton Kershaw (13). He’s struck out 127 batters, the most by any pitcher through 16 postseason games.
“Gerrit again going out there and setting the tone, that's a really important job of the starting pitcher to do,” Bader said. “You can do it with pace, you can do it with how effectively you attack the hitters in the strike zone, and he did both of those incredibly well. He makes our job on offense and defense a lot easier when he does that.”
Said Boone: “He used everything again tonight. I thought he was very much under control. He commanded his emotions well early on if he executed a pitch. He just kept making pitches all night long. He was in command of the moment. It was a huge start for us, and for him.”
José Ramírez stroked a run-scoring single in the third inning and Josh Naylor homered in the fourth -- an at-bat punctuated by an enthusiastic “Rock the Baby” celebration around the bases -- off Cole, who said he didn’t see Naylor’s antics during the game. Someone alerted Cole later, and the hurler was unimpressed.
“Yeah. Whatever. It’s cute,” Cole said.
Boone shrugged: “We can’t get caught up in that. We’re trying to win.”
Catcher Jose Trevino said Cole’s game plan did not change much from Game 1, when they held Cleveland to one run on four hits over 6 1/3 innings, a start that marked Cole’s first Yankee Stadium postseason start in pinstripes. Cole threw 50 fastballs, 28 curves, 26 sliders and six changeups in Game 4, holding the Guardians to two runs on six hits and a walk.
“For most of the night, overall, the stuff was pretty good,” Cole said. “We just executed a lot of good pitches and mixed well; well enough to get away with a couple of mistakes. I had the lead and was just focused on executing pitches and not giving it up.”
Cole could rest easy on the flight knowing this: After the ninth-inning heartbreak of the Game 3 collapse, he’d kept the Yankees breathing all the way back to the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue, where fans may already be lining up to enter. The Monday evening atmosphere promises to be intense, which is just how the Yanks want it.
“I think they call it ‘The Zoo,’ right?” Trevino said. “Let’s have it.”