Gerrit Cole became the highest-paid pitcher in history with the next three series in mind.
The right-hander will start Friday in Boston, as the Yankees begin their most important stretch of the year. They will close out the regular season with series against the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays, trying to overcome the inconsistency that has plagued them all year and to clinch an AL wild-card spot.
Cole’s performance against potentially all three of those opponents could determine if they make the playoffs.
He will face the Red Sox and Blue Jays, and if the Yankees need to win one of the games in the final weekend against the Rays, Cole could come back on short rest, which would take him out of the wild-card game.
“I’m here to do whatever Aaron [Boone] wants,’’ Cole said Wednesday regarding his schedule.
The Yankees’ schedule is daunting, with the three division opponents in front of them. They’ve gone just 30-37 versus AL East teams this year — and 19-29 against the three upcoming opponents.
Cole relayed a story he said a friend told him about the advantages of facing strong opposition.
“[It] was about ancient warriors practicing against each other or neighboring cities of the best kind, because if they weren’t practicing against the best they could find, they may be surprised if a formidable army came out of somewhere and they hadn’t been practicing against elite opponents,” Cole said before the Yankees moved back into the second wild-card spot after their 7-3 victory over the Rangers.
“Maybe that’s similar to this situation. We’ve been playing against a lot of elite opponents in this division through the year. Sure, we lost some of the battles, but we still have the war ahead of us. If we keep learning from these battles, it will put us in the best position to win a war.”
That might be overstating the stakes, but it’s the outlook the Yankees are choosing for the stretch run.
It might not matter who they play if their ace doesn’t pitch to his capabilities.
In Cole’s previous start, on Sunday, he allowed seven runs in 5 ²/₃ innings against Cleveland.
And he gave up three runs in five innings in his most recent outing at Fenway Park, on July 23.
When Cole takes the mound in Boston again on Friday, the Yankees need a better result. Cole will be followed in Boston by Nestor Cortes on Saturday and Jordan Montgomery on Sunday.
Despite all that is riding on the game, Cole said he won’t change how he gets ready.
“I’ve just got to approach it like I approach every other game,’’ Cole said. “My preparation through a big postseason or regular season start or starts in April, I try to keep the same process I always do.’’
Boone is already looking forward to the fight to the finish against the teams the Yankees have been battling with all season.
“This is who we’re up against, fighting for the same thing,’’ Boone said. “You should want it no other way. We’re gonna find out [who’s the best]. When you’re fighting for a couple spots [among] a few teams, the fact you get to settle it mano a mano on the field, that’s the way it should be. Hopefully we get where we want to go by playing good baseball. These are good teams we’re talking about.”