Midway through the third inning on Tuesday night, Yankees ace Gerrit Cole was perilously close to preventing the eventual standing ovation from a sold-out stadium that would shake him emotionally.
After allowing a one-out, short-porch poke by Steven Kwan that broke the scoreless tie in the Bronx, Cole began one of his trademark meltdowns, drilling Amed Rosario with a pitch before Jose Ramirez smoked a double into the gap.
With runners on second and third, one out, and the dangerous (and borderline unhinged) Josh Naylor at the plate, truth serum would’ve left Cole admitting that a two-run deficit would’ve worked just fine.
Then, Naylor chopped a ball to Anthony Rizzo with the infield in! OK! In the parlance of “Top Gun: Maverick,” Miracle No. 1 executed. Except…
…Rizzo, for whatever reason, whipped the grounder home, Amed Rosario trotted back to third fairly easily, and the bases were now loaded for Wild Card walk-off hero Oscar González.
Yankees ace Gerrit Cole shrugged off errors, fielding mishaps, umpire issues to change ALDS Game 1 in third inning
Previously in 2022, infield defensive gaffes behind Cole have typically led to outright disaster at a higher percentage than even Billy Crystal cameos. Any break in concentration can disrupt Cole’s rhythm, but watching an out being taken off the board seems to have the clearest correlation with runs allowed.
Somehow, on Tuesday, the exact opposite happened. After a skittish first few innings, packed with overthrows and drudgery, Cole only began to focus once Rizzo lapsed and loaded the bases behind him. It’s highly possible that the momentum shift — and narrative shift — helped alter Cole’s October persona.
You’re not going to believe this, but after a González grounder, things got worse for Cole before he actively forced them to get better.
Ranking the things Cole hates — from errors to brain locks to Crystal to the flashing light show featuring Nick Swisher before Game 1 — is an impossible task. But we’d be remiss if we left out poor umpiring, which directly led to Alex Verdugo socking a meatball to the moon a few weeks back.
With the bases still loaded and two outs, Cole uncorked a picture perfect curveball to lock up Andrés Giménez at the bottom of the zone. The home plate umpire … died mid-pitch, we assume? There’s no other excuse for not calling this a strike, and yet …
OK. Surely this was the momentum-turner. Giménez had already socked one double down the line. Another was en route. He would poke a low-and-in breaker into unguarded grass. Three runs would score. Boos would rain down. Cole’s entire contract would be litigated. Red Sox fans would proudly tweet videos of Xander Bogaerts, as if they were a part of this.
Well … Cole flipped the narrative on its head for the second time in the inning and third time in the game, after he also pitched around an Isiah Kiner-Falefa misplay in the first.
Two pitches later, Giménez dumpster dove over a perfect dirtball breaker, ending the inning and feeding almost directly into Harrison Bader’s 3-2 smash to the bleachers in left.
Never has Yankees momentum flipped so cleanly and against the grain. Watching this inning was like witnessing Aaron Judge walking off with a perfectly-placed drag bunt. It was like Clay Holmes securing a save with a 69 MPH eephus pitch. This was Kiner-Falefa muscling up and reaching Barry Bonds territory in right.
Cole’s detractors can continue to say whatever they’d like — it’s a free country that feeds on frustration — but he saved his own 2022 postseason debut from going off the rails repeatedly in the third inning. He played against type. He completed 6.1 excellent frames in the very same week that Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Max Fried, Chris Bassitt, and even Jacob deGrom were less than stellar.
For now, Cole is the playoff ace standing strongest, lowering his postseason ERA to 2.84 in the process, which remains baseball’s best-kept secret (Justin Verlander’s is 3.62 and rising). Imagine what 2021’s Wild Card Game would’ve looked like if he’d had two working hamstrings?
As silly as it is to define Cole’s chances in October by his poor showing last year, it’s equally silly to paper over his struggles and pretend like the entire crowd knew he could work around a short porch homer, an HBP, an Anthony Rizzo brain cramp, and an umpire’s ill-timed blink. Cole worked hard to change the prevailing narrative. Now, Yankee fans wait and see if this was a one-night-only Houdini act, or if the Playoff Cole they’ve long been waiting for, who embraces the moment instead of succumbing to frustration, is here to stay.