BUFFALO — Ten straight wins begat two straight losses, bad ones, and surely part of you feared the Yankees were headed straight back into the tailspin from whence they came.
So on Tuesday afternoon, YES’ Meredith Marakovits asked Aaron Boone how his team would try to rebound, to revert back to their best selves, with less than a week to go in this COVID-shortened regular season.
“You start with giving the ball to Gerrit Cole,” the Yankees’ manager responded.
That very well might prove to be the prescription to the Yankees’ decade-long malaise. Just how they drew it up last winter.
For the record, Tuesday night’s revival at Sahlen Field started with an immediate jolt from the Yankees offense, before Cole even took the ball. Yet once Cole’s number got called, all doubts — about this game, about this team, about this pitcher — ceased. A 12-1 thumping of the Blue Jays displayed the Yankees’ overall might, with Aaron Judge delivering three hits and Aaron Hicks driving home three runs, and showcased what the Yankees have been missing since CC Sabathia’s heyday: A bona fide, October-tested ace.
“I’m looking forward to it quite a bit,” Cole said of his impending Yankees postseason debut Sept. 29 in the wild-card series opener.
“Can’t wait,” Boone said of Cole’s next start. “One of the big reasons we brought him here is to be that ace that can go up against anyone. So I’m excited for him for where he’s at. As his season’s unfolded, I feel like he’s pitching his best baseball right now. Feel like he’s very much ready to go and hopefully set a good tone for us starting in the postseason.”
In his 12th and final outing of his initial Yankees regular season, Cole limited the potent Blue Jays lineup to a run and five hits in seven innings, walking none and striking out seven. He registered Ks using his four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider and curveball as he allowed only three runners to reach scoring position, one of those being Cavan Biggio when he led off the fourth with a homer for the Jays’ only run.
The right-hander concluded this COVID-shortened schedule, one that reduced his big score from $324 million to $301.3 million, with a 2.84 ERA, plenty good bang for those bucks and, as Boone noted, saving his best for last, posting a crisp 1.00 ERA in his four September starts throwing to likely Game 1 battery mate Kyle Higashioka.
“I gave our team a chance to win more often than not,” said Cole, whose August funk contributed to the Yankees’ 5-15 midseason plummet that preceded the 10-game winning streak. “I’m settled in now with the guys, with the team in the locker room, adjusting to these new protocols. It’s been really good, and I’m glad we were able to put together a pretty good campaign, as short as it was.”
“Outstanding,” Boone said. “He comes in with all these expectations … rightfully so: The big deal, best pitcher in the game coming to the Yankees and all that goes with that. The team he cheered for as a kid. And now all of a sudden, you throw 2020 on top of it and all that’s transpired. Playing in this environment, I think he’s navigated it all so well. That’s not easy.”
Nevertheless, everyone knows that Cole’s primary responsibilities begin now. He owns a career 2.60 ERA in 10 postseason starts totaling 65 ⅔ innings, with 78 strikeouts against 16 walks. Boy, would it buoy the Yankees and then some for the 30-year-old to clock a Game 1 next week, in what will be a nerve-wracking, best-of-three series, resembling that body of work.
From Cole, the Yankees will expect length and breadth, dominance and prominence. He is what distinguishes these Yankees from endeavors of recent vintage.
“He wants to lead us to victory,” Aaron Hicks said of his fellow Californian Cole. “It’s nice to have a guy like that on your team.”
“It’s nice to be finishing strong going into the postseason,” Cole said.
You start with giving the ball to him, and you know anything is possible.