Gerrit Cole’s brilliance can sometimes make it easy for one to take him for granted. He struck out eight Blue Jays on Opening Day, but allowed a pair of runs in 5.1 innings, so it was just a proper outing. Hell, the man himself hit the bench in frustration after leaving the mound. He keeps himself at a higher level.
Well, Cole certainly wasn’t destroying any teams after Tuesday night’s game. Faced with a less threatening bird-oriented lineup, the 30-year-old right was just overwhelming. He tied his career record in pinstripes by striking out 13 Orioles, matching his total in the American League Wild Card Game against Cleveland. More importantly, Cole failed to walk and knocked Baltimore out in seven innings en route to a 7-2 Yankees victory.
Cole had to work through a quick first-inning jam caused by an opening single by Cedric Mullins, who stole the second and moved to third on a pass from Kyle Higashioka. Undeterred, Cole struck out Trey Mancini and inducted a groundout to first by Anthony Santander. Jay Bruce made a Good game to throw Mullins at the plate, and Ryan Mountcastle fouled to finish the frame. Without sweating.
To his credit, Orioles starter Dean Kremer did a better act than Houdini in the home half of the first. He loaded the bases with back-to-back singles by DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge, the latter of which broke his leg. Kremer stayed in the game but walked Brett Gardner. He then quickly struck out on the flank, swinging Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier in order. Torres narrowly turned around on a low pitch that would have been the fourth ball and Frazier landed on three strikes in a row, so the bottom line: not exactly a standout inning for the Yankees offense.
Perhaps in a strong rebuke from the previous frame, and fearing for his own spot on the list with Rougned Odor now in town, Jay Bruce opened with a “Yankee Stadium Special”, putting New York up 1-0:
Baseball Savant said Bruce’s drive had an expected .220 batting average, but hey, if you hit it 354 feet onto the short porch in right field, good things tend to happen.
Meanwhile, Cole went on a roll. He hit the side on the second and third, then added another on an easy fourth. Even as the O’s got on base here and there, a Mancini bloop double, a Maikel Franco single, whatever, there never seemed much concern that Cole was really in trouble.
Case Study: Look at how you stranded Mancini in the third.
Kremer stranded two more runners in the third, but when he left for the fourth, he completely lost control. Bruce, Gio Urshela, and Higashioka worked on hikes, and O’s captain Brandon Hyde gave him the hook. Adam Plutko came in from the bullpen and did his job with leadoff hitter LeMahieu, who rebounded on a double play. A run was scored, but it looked like Baltimore would cause another bases loaded jam to go up in smoke.
The judge had different ideas:
The opposite field single increased the Yankees’ lead to 3-0.
That was more than enough for Cole, who flattened the Orioles in his last three innings. The ace shot three perfect frames, striking out five more batters to bring his total to 13. It was pure hell.
Some people will immediately try to attribute Cole’s superior outing to Higashioka’s reception rather than Gary Sanchez, but they should also keep in mind that the Orioles are a far worse hitting team than Toronto. There are a multitude of factors to consider, so while they obviously make a good team and Higashioka is sure to catch a lot of Cole starts, no need to yell that he must be paired with Cole at all times in a hurry. It’s early. They can both catch it.
The Yankees’ offense made up for the missed opportunities with some highly prized accumulated runs against the Baltimore bullpen. At the end of the seventh, Stanton broke a 117.1 mph missile Tyler Wells hit the left-field wall for a double, Gardner scoring from first.
An inning later, Urshela singled and Higashioka doubled to put two runners in scoring position for Judge. Of course, with Judge at bat, all the running backs are in scoring position, including himself. Yankees legend Wade LeBlanc gave him a good pitch and the big man destroyed him:
The Yankees shot to a 7-0 lead, and although they lost the shutout on a Rio Ruiz homer in the ninth inning to Lucas Luetge, they still went with the easy W. Just like that, the Bombers have their first winning streak it’s from the season. Everything’s fine.