NEW YORK — As Gerrit Cole wandered through the visitor's clubhouse ahead of his start against the Washington Nationals on Thursday night, he noticed some of his teammates already in uniform.
It was a simple moment that every ballplayer experiences on a daily basis over the course of a baseball season. After all, with the clock ticking closer to first pitch, it was time for Cole himself to suit up and get onto the field for warmups.
Seeing those around him donning the Yankees' gray jerseys with "New York" printed across the chest, however, meant a little more for the right-hander.
"It just hit me that this was for real," he said.
Forget Spring Training and Summer Camp. Nearly eight months after agreeing to a mammoth, $324 million contract, Cole made his official debut as the New York Yankees' ace.
It certainly wasn't how he drew it up, but even a torrential downpour in Washington D.C. — cutting his club's opener down to just five innings — wouldn't prevent Cole from shining on the mound.
The right-hander went all five frames, allowing just one hit, one run and three total base runners while striking out five. During the rain delay, when all signs pointed to the game being called and the Yankees securing a 4-1 victory, Cole checked in with his wife from the bowels of Nationals Park.
"I said to Amy, I can't believe I'm gonna get a complete game one-hitter in my debut. It's just ridiculous," he recalled.
His teammates weren't surprised in the slightest.
"It was what I expected," designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton said. "Just dominant, pounding the zone, getting crazy swing and misses like he usually does and it's good to see him get his first Yankee win and complete game."
Thanks to Stanton's bat — and his two-run moonshot in the top of the first inning — Cole was already working with a lead before he had touched the mound. That made a solo shot off the bat of outfielder Adam Eaton in the bottom of the first frame an easier pill to swallow.
As it turns out, that would be the only adversity Cole would face all night long. After the solo home run, Cole retired 14 of the next 16 hitters he faced, including a stretch of 10 Nationals retired in a row.
"I really felt like he kind of improved as we went and kind of reined it in a little bit," manager Aaron Boone said. "I thought he made a lot of really really big pitches, especially some pitches when he was behind in the count that were were critical for him. I thought he settled into a nice groove and an overall from stuff wise, I thought he was really good."
That groove had Cole excited to go out for his sixth inning of work, potentially even further. He was on a pitch count of about 90 to 100 pitches and wound up throwing only 75 due to the inclement weather.
He threw his signature four-seam fastball 48 times — topping out at 98.8 mph, per Statcast — inducing seven swings and misses along with six called strikes with his heater.
"Every time I get the opportunity to catch him, it's just impressive," backstop Gary Sánchez said on the club's ace. "Every single time I'm behind the plate, it's impressive to see how easy he makes my job. He's always attacking hitters, he's always following the plan, he has that 'it.'"
Unfazed by an empty stadium, the tidal wave of adrenaline that hit him during warmups, or the "normal nerves" of taking the mound in prime time, Cole was able to do what he does best. Beyond that, Cole simply "had a blast," something that didn't go unnoticed by the other stars in the dugout beside him.
"This is his lifelong [dream]," Aaron Judge said. "This was his favorite team growing up as a kid and it came full circle from being a fan to pitching on Opening Day for the Yankees against the reigning champs.
"He wanted this. It was a special moment I know that he'll never forget. I know a lot of us won't forget either."
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