After 2.5 years of slander, even Gerrit Cole’s harshest critics have to give him this: after a brutal start last July 29, the Yankees‘ ace has found a way to dominate the Tampa Bay Rays, both at home at Yankee Stadium and at Second Home at Tropicana Field.
Seriously, did you hear that ovation in the eighth inning Monday night? Not a road game. Barely a road game. Either that, or the home fans were very much enjoying getting dominated.
Cole’s final start against Tampa came in that noteworthy stinkbomb last July; he lasted 5.1 in a road tilt, allowing eight runs (seven earned) before giving way to Albert Abreu and his death-defying failure stunts.
He’d had flashes against the Rays before, sure. Last May 12, he went eight innings in a 1-0 shutout win (also in Tampa), striking out 12 before Aroldis Chapman locked it down. He performed quite well in Game 1 of the 2020 ALDS, allowing three runs and whiffing eight in six innings, and allowed just a single hit in Game 5 (though it was one hit too many).
Those previous spurts of dominance typically weren’t noticed, though, considering the prevailing narrative was: “Yeah, sure, but he can’t get Ji-Man Choi out.”
Choi pounded a two-run shot off Cole in that 2020 playoff series opener. Through that contest, he was 10-for-19 with four homers off the ace — and, here’s a fun one, two of the four other players who’ve taken Cole deep four or more times are currently his teammates (Matt Carpenter and Joey Gallo).
As the tide has turned in this rivalry, though, so have Cole’s personal battles with the patient first baseman. Since the beginning of 2022, the right-hander has largely shut down his surprise adversary.
Gerrit Cole, Yankees have owner Ji-Man Choi since 2021
The other two players with four homers off Cole, by the way? Lucas Duda and Rafael Devers. Don’t foresee either of them teaming up with him, unfortunately.
Choi is an excellent player who does a great job of hitting to all fields, as well as showcasing his power and patience (and poise when he has to do the splits at first base). Since 2020, his greatness has been more widely acknowledged; getting beaten by Choi doesn’t elicit a slackjawed response anymore.
But as Choi has emerged as a more consistent threat, Cole has buckled down, turning the tables on the former thorn in his side. That mindset adjustment has been part of a larger plan to unseat the Rays atop the AL East, something his no-hit bid on Monday played a major part in.
Next up on Cole’s list of bugaboos? Devers and the Red Sox, who will dominate New York’s July schedule.
If he climbs that mountain, it could go a long way towards ending his 2022 season in triumph rather than disappointment.