NEW YORK – Gerrit Cole raised his right fist and screamed as he rushed off the mound at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, an authentic exclamation mark affixed to a final pitch that prompted a late-inning double play, freeing the Yankees ace from a hairy situation.
Those are the challenges the Bombers expect in a 13-game streak against clubs with winning records, especially in all-important contests against divisional competition. Cole and the Yankees passed their first test, earning a 2-0 win over the Rays to extend the club’s winning streak to five games.
“It’s going to be a lot of tough baseball,” Cole said. “But we are up to the challenge. Whatever it takes.
Coming off a bad start at Minnesota in which he allowed a career-high five homers, Cole’s clean line of six scoreless innings and seven strikeouts doesn’t sum up the drama of the sixth inning. Tampa Bay forced the right-hander to dig deep, needing help on and off the field.
“That’s the good thing about Gerrit,” receiver Jose Trevino said. “You put him in that position, he’s not going to back down. He will come to you.
After Yandy Díaz opened the inning with a soft single to left field, Cole had Harold Ramirez cut a grounder that the pitcher lined up on the grass between the mound and first base. Cole threw a pitch to second base that seemingly pulled Gleyber Torres from the sack, appearing to put runners on first and second with no outs.
“I got the ball and I was thinking about the double play all the way through,” Cole said.
Cole had already barked a PG-13 comment into space when manager Aaron Boone flagged a review that no one in the Yankees’ infield believed had a chance. Still, Brett Weber, the club’s replay coordinator, spotted a freeze frame in which Torres’ right foot appeared to be holding the bag.
It’s a streak that hours later prompted Boone to jump out of his chair in the press conference room, demonstrating on the podium as if playing second base: “I’m trying to tell everybody this – all those plays you think he’s coming out of, you don’t get loose on the first try unless you dive in. The throw takes you out. Even if it was a little weird…unless you fell or dipped in, you hold the bag.
Boone was again mimicking Torres’ movements in the basement tunnel a few minutes later, waving in mock frustration, “Ah, you don’t understand.” But the proofreading official agreed with Boone’s physics lesson, sending an incredulous Díaz back to the visiting dugout; Díaz then insisted that “a 5-year-old could have seen that I was safe”.
The Yankees universally praised Weber’s eye, with Isiah Kiner-Falefa calling him “a big pick-me-up,” but the relief lasted only a few pitches. Manuel Margot dipped a soft single into center field, drawing Boone to the mound.
It was an appropriate time to visit; the next hitter, Ji-Man Choi, has been a personal enemy of Cole. Entering Tuesday and including the playoffs, Choi was 10-for-25 (.400) lifetime against Cole, with three doubles and four homers.
Still, Cole had knocked out Choi in their first two confrontations, once while swinging and once while looking. Through gritted teeth, Cole told Boone not to take the ball.
“Choi is a tough game there,” Boone said. “With two outs, I might have gone to Wandy [Peralta] in this location. With an out, I wanted to see him there. He certainly wanted it.
The call almost backfired. Choi cut a grounder on the side of the mound that seemed destined for center field. Kiner-Falefa dived to smother the ball behind the second base sack, preventing Ramirez from scoring; Cole pointed his glove at the shortstop in appreciation.
Now the bases were filled with one out, and Cole’s mission was Randy Arozarena, the big outfielder who scored his last time. Since it was all night, Cole’s mindset was to avoid the slug, breaking a first pitch slider low and out of the strike zone.
Arozarena clipped the ball to Kiner-Falefa at shortstop, triggering a 6-4-3 double play, a routine twin kill to end an inning that had been anything but.
“He’s Gerrit Cole for a reason,” Kiner-Falefa said. “He made big throws when he needed to, and that’s what we expect from him.”