Instead of the type of blame-shifting chum they were ready to pounce on, Cole provided something perhaps even more upsetting: a complete loss for words, grounded again by his third straight subpar start.
This one, in fact, was the worst of all, making a game against Toronto where he was victimized twice by Vlad Guerrero Jr., previously an unthinkable sore spot, look like David Cone in the 1996 World Series.
Cole’s three troubled starts in 2022, coming off a hamstring injury that sunk his Wild Card Game, have all painted a different picture of a struggling ace. In the opener against the Red Sox, he was ambushed for three runs before an out was recorded, but eventually settled down and hit his pitch count. In the second contest, only Vladdy Jr. tagged him, though the line score wasn’t up to expectations.
And, in the third, pitching with the first lead of his young season, Cole went to seemingly endless full counts in the second inning of a cold weather game in Detroit, walking five and leaving with the bases loaded midway through the frame before getting pulled.
By now, Yankees fans are conditioned to expect excuses for imperfection from their ace, ranging from the standard to the bizarre (Billy Crystal). On Tuesday, though, Cole’s sad postgame session featured only long faces and self-censored four-letter words.
Yankees ace Gerrit Cole’s postgame showed he’s completely lost
There was no preening, complaining, or cringing. He didn’t point out the injury delay Tigers RHP Rony Garcia brought to the second inning, causing Cole to come out of the dugout and throw to stay loose/warm. He didn’t mention the freezing temperatures, dipping below 40 in the same way that they theoretically might in October.
He just admitted that he’d never had an inning quite this bad before, but through gritted teeth claimed it was nothing he and the team couldn’t get through.
In a mostly muttered press conference, Cole’s trademark wheel-spinning was gone, and his downtrodden attitude made even Yankees fans who were ready for blood blush.
Quite simply, this wasn’t the ace we paid for, but he wasn’t deflecting anything, either. He was just desperately waiting for the night to end.
If Cole is a $324 million man who needs conditions to be pitch-perfect in order to succeed, the next seven seasons of his Yankees career will not go smoothly. In all three starts this year, from Billy Crystal himself to Vlad Jr.’s finger injury delay to, yes, Rony Garcia, there was a complicating factor in Cole’s struggles.
Aces shake it off, though. Hell, even Clarke Schmidt shook it off on Tuesday night, saving one of the least inspiring wins in modern history for the Yankees.
For the first time Tuesday, it wasn’t just the pessimistic fans who are ready to jump at every little slight who left worried about Cole’s future in pinstripes. The worst-case scenario is that Cole signed a nine-year deal with 1.5 great seasons left in his right arm, then lost 100 games of Season 1 to a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
Until Cole rights the ship, that worry will persist front of mind.