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 only an adequate outing. Hell, the man himself slammed the bench in frustration after leaving the mound. He holds himself to a higher standard.
Well, Cole certainly wasn’t destroying any equipment after Tuesday night’s game. Facing a less menacing bird-oriented lineup, the 30-year-old right-hander was simply overpowering. He tied his career-high in pinstripes by striking out 13 Orioles, matching his total in the AL Wild Card Game against Cleveland. More importantly, Cole didn’t walk a single batter and shut Baltimore out over seven innings en route to a 7-2 Yankees win.
Cole did have to work out of a quick first-inning jam sparked by a leadoff single from Cedric Mullins, who stole second and moved to third on a passed ball by Kyle Higashioka. Undeterred, Cole struck out Trey Mancini and induced a grounder to first by Anthony Santander. Jay Bruce made a nice play to throw Mullins out at the plate, and Ryan Mountcastle fouled out to end the frame. No sweat.
To his credit, Orioles starter Dean Kremer turned in an even better Houdini act in the home half of the first. He loaded the bases on back-to-back singles by DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge, the latter of which smashed off his leg. Kremer stayed in the game but walked Brett Gardner. He then promptly struck out the side, fanning Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, and Clint Frazier in order. Torres narrowly went around on a low pitch that would have been ball four and Frazier went down on three straight strikes, so in short: not exactly a banner inning for the Yankees’ offense.
Perhaps in a sharp rebuke of the previous frame — and fearing for his own roster spot with Rougned Odor now in town — Jay Bruce led off with a “Yankee Stadium Special,” putting the New York up, 1-0:
Baseball Savant said that Bruce’s drive had an expected batting average of .220, but hey, if you hit it 354 feet toward the short porch in right field, good things tend to happen.
Meanwhile, Cole got on a roll. He struck out the side in the second and third, then added another in an easy fourth. Even when the O’s got on base here and there — a Mancini bloop double, a Maikel Franco single, whatever — there never seemed to be much of a worry that Cole was actually in trouble.
Case-in point: watch how he stranded Mancini in the third.
Kremer stranded two more runners in the third, but when he came out for the fourth, he completely lost his command. Bruce, Gio Urshela, and Higashioka all worked walks, and O’s skipper Brandon Hyde gave him the hook. Adam Plutko entered from the bullpen and did his job with the first batter, LeMahieu, who bounced into a double play. A run scored, but it seemed like Baltimore would make another bases-loaded jam go up in smoke.
Judge had different ideas:
The opposite-field single increased the Yankees’ lead to 3-0.
That was more than enough for Cole, who steamrolled the Orioles over his final three innings. The ace fired three perfect frames, striking out five more batters to increase his total to 13. He was purely hellacious.
Some folks will try to immediately attribute this superior Cole outing to Higashioka catching rather than Gary Sánchez, but also keep in mind that the Orioles are a far worse-hitting team than Toronto. There’s a multitude of factors to consider, so while they obviously make a good team and Higashioka is sure to catch a whole bunch of Cole starts, there’s no need to yell that he must be paired with Cole at all times posthaste. It’s early. Both of them can catch him.
The Yankees’ offense made up for squandered opportunities with some much-appreciated pile-on runs against the Baltimore bullpen. In the bottom of the seventh, Stanton cracked a 117.1-mph missile off Tyler Wells to the left-field wall for a double, scoring Gardner 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, every runner is in scoring position — including himself. Yankees legend Wade LeBlanc gave him a fat pitch, and the big man destroyed it:
The Yankees soared to a 7-0 lead, and while they lost the shutout on a ninth-inning homer by Rio Ruiz off Lucas Luetge, they still came away with the easy W. Just like that, the Bombers have their first winning streak of the season. All is well.