TAMPA — As Yankees manager Aaron Boone strolled to the mound on Friday night, a crowd of 2,502 at George M. Steinbrenner Field collectively rose to its feet.
Yankees ace Gerrit Cole had just completed his final outing of spring training, a start featuring 5.2 scoreless innings and five strikeouts to go along with two base hits.
Considering Cole hadn't pitched in front of this many fans since last spring, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ovation he got on Friday night was arguably the loudest he's ever received while wearing pinstripes.
As much as Cole was appreciative of the cheers and applause, he's eager to hear a similar, more amplified roar at Yankee Stadium next week.
"It's been a long time since people in New York have been able to get to a baseball game," Cole said. "Looking forward to it, looking forward to my family being there. Hopefully we come out crisp, play a nice game, set the tone for the season."
Earlier in the spring, Cole explained that he wanted to get to a position where he'll be able to throw 100 pitches on Opening Day. In his final step before starting the season next Thursday, the right-hander threw 86 pitches against the Orioles, 59 for strikes.
"Got his pitch count up again today," Boone said after the game. "I thought he was really dynamic last time out where I thought he really put it all together, put his pitch package together and I thought tonight was very similar. I thought he had great stuff and he executed a lot of all four of his pitches."
Boone added that the leader of this club's starting rotation is "ready to roll" with less than one week to go until Opening Day. Asked if he feels good to go, Cole said he's hit every marker he set for himself this spring so far.
"Should go out there with a pretty full clip," he said. "Been happy with the shapes of the pitches. been happy with attacking the zone. I feel like I'm as prepared as I can be."
Looking back on his first full spring in pinstripes, Cole pitched as advertised. He posted a 2.45 ERA over five starts (18.1 innings pitched) with 24 strikeouts and three wins.
Cole has six days until the regular season begins after his final tune-up. He explained that he'll go through his normal routine, stretching it out with one additional day of rest.
Part of that preparation will include working out outside once he gets back to New York, adjusting to the climate after nearly two months at Yankees camp in Tampa.
It's the presence of the fans on Friday night that particularly resonated with Cole after his outing, though. He recalled one specific fan calling out to him repeatedly during warmups down the right-field line, just a taste of what he'll receive when he emerges onto the field next Thursday for his first outing in the Bronx with fans in the stands.
"The guy in right-center field pumping me up before the game just nonstop," Cole said. "He was on level 10. I had to lock it in a minute, he was making me smile. So I mean, it's spring training. Appreciate the ovation. Looking forward to giving them a few more reasons to stand up this year."
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