Forget the boxscore. That will show Clay Holmes as the losing pitcher.
But the loser Wednesday night for the Yankees was Gerrit Cole. He lost whatever lingering chance he had at his first Cy Young Award. He lost any sense of invulnerability down the stretch when the Yankees wanted to look to their ace for a sure win every fifth day. And he lost what became a 6-5 Blue Jays triumph everywhere but the box score.
The Yankees rallied late from the quick 4-0 deficit that Cole put them in, tying the game 5-5 in the seventh only to see Holmes, who has been so good at just about everything as a Yankee, including defying long balls, yield a leadoff homer to Yankee-killer Bo Bichette leading off the eighth.
So Cole ended with a no-decision. But he put Aaron Boone into position to have to potentially make some tough ones. Notably, are the Yankees best served bringing back Cole on short rest Sunday against the Rays if they need to win Game 162 to assure a playoff spot? And just how much rope would Boone provide in Tuesday’s wild-card sudden death if the Yankees make it?
The answers are almost certainly “yes” and “plenty,” owing to Cole’s pedigree, which includes how well he pitched for the Yankees in last year’s postseason. But twice now in the last three games, Cole has delivered games more befitting a back-end-of-the-rotation innings-eater rather than the highest-paid pitcher in history.
Cole said his hamstring, which he injured in a losing effort Sept. 7 against the Blue Jays, is not a factor. But beginning with that outing, Cole has a 6.15 ERA in his last five starts. Throughout this year, there has been focus on how pitchers would endure a full workload after just a 60-game regular season in 2020. But little attention was on Cole, owing to his history as a prime-aged horse. Cole and Boone downplayed exhaustion as a factor. Kyle Higashioka said, “I think his stuff looks good.” And when asked when he could start next, Cole said, “The last game of the year.”
That would be Game 162, if the Yanks need to win it. And that became more in play Wednesday. The Yanks had a chance to deliver close to a kill shot to Toronto’s playoff chances if they were able to win an eighth straight game. Instead, their seven-game losing streak concluded, allowing Boston to close within one game of the top wild-card spot and the Blue Jays two, with the Mariners in the mix, too.
Now, in the rubber match Thursday the Yankees face Robbie Ray, who now pretty much has the AL Cy Young locked up as Cole is looking at a second career runner-up finish.
“I am certainly frustrated with how I performed,” Cole said. “I am not frustrated to keep us in the game and able to scratch back and to tie at 5-5.”
Of course, the Yanks did not guarantee Cole $324 million to keep them in games. He was inked to dominate just this kind of implication-filled affair. But in the first turns around the lineup it was Toronto starter Jose Berrios who thrived, throwing three perfect innings on 42 pitches.
Cole began this game with 100 strikeouts on pitches 97 mph — nine more than any other pitcher. But Toronto was hunting the heater and Cole was not precise in trying to establish it early in counts.
Against the Blue Jays’ first nine hitters, Cole gave up four extra-base hits, all on fastballs 97 mph or faster, which included a two-run homer by Marcus Semien two batters into the first.
Cole did not get his first swing and miss until one out and one on in the second, when he hurled 100 mph by the ninth-place hitter to strike out Reese McGuire. But when the lineup turned over, Springer clocked another fastball for an RBI single and a 3-0 lead. In the third inning, Bichette hit yet another fastball for a homer to make it 4-0.
Cole struck out the next two batters and settled down. But Joey Gallo made yet another bad play on a pop-up. Even Boone said Gallo had to take charge of the George Springer pop leading off the fifth, calling off Gio Urshela. Instead, the ball fell for a double. Springer took third on a fly out and scored on an infield-in double ripped past DJ LeMahieu. It was the seventh extra-base hit against Cole — as many as he gave up in his first seven starts this year.
The Yanks would rebound to tie. Holmes would get the loss when Bichette — like Semien — hit his eighth homer versus the Yanks this year. But that is just a designation in a box score.
For it was Cole who had endured a “L” of a day.
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