The Toronto Blue Jays entered Thursday night's showdown with the Yankees with everything to play for, just one game up on a playoff spot and looking to ruin their rivals' third consecutive day.
Luckily for New York, Gerrit Cole also had plenty of motivation to shove on the other side of the scale. This was poised to be his final home start of the season, most likely his penultimate outing of the season. His Cy Young case appears to be relatively iron-clad, but ... you just never know. Voters don't enjoy when Yankees are the best at things. Throwing 20+ more innings than Sonny Gray with a lower ERA, a lower WHIP, and 45 more strikeouts would seem to be statistically significant ... but, again, if Cole wants it, he knows he'd better run up the score.
And ... in Year 11, with nothing personal in the trophy case ... he wants it. He'd rather have the bigger one with all the pennants, but with the season going down the tubes, he'll certainly take the bronzed hand palming a baseball.
Luckily, not only did Cole show up poised to impress on Thursday after struggling to get anything going last week in his return to Pittsburgh, but he might've brought his best stuff of the season. Even though his perfect game bid lasted less than six innings, it still sort of felt like he might go all the way. He just had that bite.
Will Yankees' Gerrit Cole win AL Cy Young Award after dominating Blue Jays?
If he doesn't, it'll be an historically pathetic example of anti-Yankees bias from the voting base. Maybe the writers will try to give this one to Jose Altuve, too.
He entered this showdown needing to make a statement, and -- well, he didn't really. But you know Cole. It's been a few weeks (ok, fine, months) since he's played truly meaningful baseball. He's got the AL's No. 5 seed in front of him, and they're feeling poised. They've already silenced the Bleacher Creatures twice. Why not a third time?
From the very first at-bat, where Cole used a combination of cutters and curves to retire George Springer without a single fastball, you knew he had every intention of carving up Toronto without giving them a moment to breathe, collect themselves, and erroneously accuse Aaron Judge of cheating.
Unfortunately, the only blemish on his record came in the eighth inning, with the bullpen entirely silent. The first batter of the inning, Matt Chapman, fairly clearly chased a 2-2 pitch, but home plate umpire John Bacon saw the check swing differently. Naturally, Chapman doubled off the very next pitch, eventually ruining the shutout and coming around to score on a wild pitch, probably caused by Cole yanking the seams too hard in anger.
With one out and the bases loaded in the ninth, things got predictably hairy in the exact way you're expecting. Vlad Guerrero Jr. strode to the plate and punched a Clay Holmes super-sinker into the ground. Gleyber Torres, taking his time with the turn for whatever reason, threw high. With Matt Chapman as the tying run with two outs, Torres fielded a chopped up the middle and threw low; DJ LeMahieu's scoop was unsuccessful, bringing the lead run to the plate.
Thankfully, LeMahieu and Holmes saved numerous tri-state area television sets by inducing and corraling a chopper. Then, the Narrative Arrow rightfully pivoted back to Cole's mastery rather than Torres' heart-stopping indiscretions.
If Cole didn't already have the AL's top pitching honor sewn up before he two-hit the Jays with nine strikeouts and no walks in the Bronx on Thursday, then he'll just have to make his argument a little more emphatically in his final start of the season.
Who does he face then? Toronto, again, on the road this time? Got it. Bring John Bacon North of the Border, too, make it a grudge match.