THIS is the marquee start the New York Yankees have needed from Gerrit Cole after he signed that $324 million contract before the 2020 season.
When the Bombers fell to 41-41 on July 4 courtesy of Cole being unable to hold onto a 4-1 lead against (at the time) the MLB’s worst run-scoring offense in the New York Mets, it was the definitive low point (succeeding a number of others) of the 2021 season.
The Yankees are by no means out of the woods at 46-42, but it’s indescribable how bad things really could’ve gotten if this team fell flat on its face against the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros this week.
Now, heading into Sunday, the Yankees have all the momentum — perhaps the most they’ve had all year. They’re 4-1 in their last five games and Cole just gave them an epic 129-pitch nine-inning shutout to preserve a 1-0 lead to take another series from the Astros.
Let’s take a moment to pour one out for all the “spider tack” whiners who believe Cole was only able to succeed with foreign substances. Nope. He just needed an adjustment period. The sub-narrative of Cole’s struggles after MLB’s ban may have just wrapped up.
He delivered the most captivating win of the Yankees’ season and arguably the most thrilling start of any pitcher across MLB despite the far-too-many no-hitters in the first half.
Gerrit Cole shutting up the Astros and lifting the Yankees was nothing short of epic.
Why? Well, if you’ve been following the Yankees this year, you’d understand. Even Cole’s come under scrutiny in this upside down 2021 campaign because almost nothing has gone New York’s way.
Most of that criticism was indirect, too. No Yankees fan doesn’t want Gerrit Cole on their team — he’s a great pitcher, teammate, personality and leader. The problem for some dialed-in and learned fans is the manner in which the Yankees went about signing him.
They passed on ace-like options multiple years prior. They failed to develop multiple Cy Young candidates who failed in the Bronx only to go and thrive elsewhere. Heading into 2020, their only glaring hole was an ace and stability atop the rotation.
Cole was available. He wasn’t the best pitcher in baseball, but he was coming off two damn good seasons. They made him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball by … $79 million. What did that do? Only place MORE pressure on Cole to deliver each time he steps on the mound and let the Yankees use his insane AAV to spend less in subsequent offseasons (which already happened).
Cole’s had many good starts for the Yankees since coming aboard, but this one could very well already be the best of his entire tenure (during the regular season, at least) in the Bronx (present and future). He threw 99 MPH on his final pitch. He argued with manager Aaron Boone and refused to come out of the game.
Quite frankly, he knew how to manage this one. The Yankees needed this win. A loss would have been beyond deflating after how hard he fought to shut down a potent Astros lineup (despite how many players they were missing). There was no way Cole — and rightfully so! — could’ve stomached Boone going to Luis Cessa or Aroldis Chapman for the final three outs of this game to face the top of the Astros’ lineup. Wasn’t happening.
And that’s the final touch on the instant classic that was Cole’s outing on Saturday, July 10. He allowed five baserunners on three hits and a walk. He struck out 12, including the final two batters. Astros fans will point to a terrible call from the home plate umpire in the bottom of the ninth that gifted the right-hander a crucial out (Yuli Gurriel was called out on strikes after a check swing, but he clearly did not go around), but Cole got the absolute bare minimum from his offense.
A lone Aaron Judge solo homer was the difference in this one. The Yankees managed just six hits and three walks against four different Astros pitchers (even after Zack Greinke was removed before the fifth inning!). They went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and 1-for-14 with runners on base.
But Cole battled through. Boone simply couldn’t afford to go to his $16 million closer, who’s been unable to throw a fastball for over a month now. The lineup did what it’s done for most of the year and failed to provide ample support. In a hostile environment at Minute Maid Park, Cole took the ball and delivered the plot twist every Yankees fans needed in 2021. And created his own trademark performance in the process.
We’ve said it about 10 times already, but we’re finally for real: we will be looking back on THIS moment if the Yankees are able to turn this campaign into something special.