NEW YORK — Nearly eight months ago, Gerrit Cole stood at the dais at Yankee Stadium for his introductory press conference, unveiling the sign from his childhood that read, "Yankee Fan. Today. Tomorrow. Forever."
"I'm here. I've always been here," he exclaimed, beaming in his brand new pinstriped jersey with his No. 45 printed on the back.
It was a moment and a signing decades in the making, matching one of the best pitchers on the planet with the team he's been rooting for since he was just a kid.
Since then, Cole had donned pinstripes on a few occasions. He had suited up on picture day, toed the rubber during his Spring Training debut in New York's iconic home uniform and the pinstriped pants were a staple in his daily getup at Yankees' Summer Camp.
Monday night was different. Under the lights in the Bronx, Cole made his first official start in pinstripes at Yankee Stadium and as always, he didn't disappoint with the ball in his hand and his cleats on the slab.
The Yankees' ace remained undefeated on the season, earning his third win of the year in a 6-3 victory over the Phillies. Cole shut down Philadelphia's lineup, allowing just one run and five hits over six frames while striking out four.
Considering Cole has been dreaming of his Yankee home debut for quite some time, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in some of his plans for the special occasion. Cole's wife and newborn son were at home while his parents were back in California watching the game on television.
Even with a slate of unprecedented circumstances, Cole explained that it was still a dream come true. Yes, in part because he was able to don pinstripes and take the field from the first-base dugout rather than the visitor's side, but chiefly because New York was able to end up on top when the final out was recorded.
"To be honest, I imagined getting a win in the home debut," he said. "So I guess we got that one done. The new uniform is great, the mound is top notch here, we obviously played a crisp ballgame so it was a good day."
Cole was spotted one run in the first inning by the Bombers' offense. DJ LeMahieu stroked his second leadoff home run of the season, giving New York an early lead after Cole's smooth first frame.
"Any time you can get a lead, you want to get one as quick as possible," Cole explained. "It allows you to throw some of those challenge pitches in certain situations when you may not be so sharp and play the odds. Fortunate enough to have a really good offense here, they had a really good night.
After two spotless innings, that logic came into play.
On a full-count offering to Philadelphia's Jay Bruce, the right-hander tried to blow a four-seam fastball past the slugger but left it too far out over the plate. Bruce clobbered it into the Yankees' bullpen in right-center field, drawing an audible roar from the Phillies' dugout.
"I thought the Phillies really hunted the fastball on him," Boone said. "Had a pretty good plan. I thought Bruce put together a really good at-bat on him. Going from 0-2, laying off some chase pitches, to get back to a heater."
It was Cole's third home run allowed in three starts, a problem the right-hander ran into last season as well when he averaged just over one long ball allowed per nine innings pitched.
From then on, however, New York's $324 million arm didn't allow another run to score.
"Then you look up and it’s 90-ish pitches, just the home run and one run," Boone said. "Just another really strong outing from our ace."
With Philadelphia's lineup sitting dead red early and often, Cole leaned heavily on his curveball as the outing progressed. He called upon the offspeed pitch 20 percent of the time (up from 15 percent across all 33 of his starts a year ago).
"We started to be able to command it within the strike zone as the outing went on," Cole explained. "We used it for a couple strikeouts early, put some pressure toward the bottom of the zone, but it was just another offering we could use to try to get ahead."
A rain delay put the game on hold for just over an hour as the seventh inning was about to begin, but Cole's night was over regardless. He had thrown 91 pitches (58 for strikes). Right-hander Jonathan Holder was trotting in from the 'pen to take over as the Yankees' grounds crew scrambled to begin laying the tarp on the field.
Monday night was the second time in Cole's three starts in a Yankees uniform where rain has had an impact on his outing.
He threw five innings in a rain-shortened victory on Opening Day, allowing just one run to the Washington Nationals. The right-hander was credited him with a complete game and one-hitter. His only other appearance this season was a seven-strikeout victory over the Orioles in Baltimore on Wednesday.
The win on Monday extended Cole's career-long winning streak to 19 games, dating back to May of last season when he was a member of the Houston Astros. In that span, over his last 25 starts, Cole has posted a 1.86 ERA, striking out 242 in 164 1/3 innings.
Cole is now one win away from a four-way tie for third place on the all-time list of the longest winning streaks for a starting pitcher in Major League Baseball history.
Asked how he feels his first three starts with the Yankees have gone, Cole said he's still striving to hit his stride.
"I think there’s room for improvement still across the board. With that said, every time we’ve gone out, we’ve done a good job. So, you can do as much work as you can in between but whatever you’ve got that day is what you got that day and you’ve got to figure it out. We’ve been doing a good job of that."
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