The Yankees needed their ace to be a stopper on Wednesday night. On his home turf, Gerrit Cole delivered.
Halting a four-game losing streak, the Southern California native produced another signature performance, striking out 15 in front of friends and family at Angel Stadium in a 4-1 win.
"Just complete domination. That's what we needed out of our ace today, especially after the past couple games falling short," outfielder Aaron Judge said after the victory. "He's our guy. That's who we want on the mound in any situation where we need to come out with a win and he showed it tonight."
Cole had 15 strikeouts, the most he's ever had in a single game since joining the Yankees. That raised his total on the season to 215, the most in Major League Baseball.
He didn't walk a single batter either, allowing just four hits and one earned run.
"He's obviously had some really good [outings] in his career, and certainly with us the last two seasons, but that for me was up there," manager Aaron Boone said. "I felt like a step ahead of those guys all day, I felt like his fastball was probably as good as it's been all year and just had a little bit of everything going."
Cole's fastball was a driving force all night, from his first strikeout to his last.
Facing MVP candidate Shohei Ohtani in the first inning, a slugger that routinely turns heaters into souvenirs, Cole blew a 98.4-mph fastball by him for his first punch out. At that point, catcher Kyle Higashioka knew the ace was poised for a memorable performance.
"I actually thought his bullpen was pretty bad," Higashioka recalled. "But that's usually an indicator that he's going to have a great game. So as soon as he struck out Ohtani the first time I was like, 'okay, he's dialed in.'"
That wasn't the only time Cole powered a four-seam fastball past the two-way superstar. The right-hander struck Ohtani out on fastballs two more times Wednesday night, all three while lighting up the radar gun.
"Shohei is a special player and arguably the most exciting player in the game right now," Higashioka added. "I think Gerrit definitely rose to the occasion and he brought his best stuff. He did what we all know he could do."
Cole didn't stop there. At one point, starting with a 99.5-mph fastball blown by Ohtani in the third, the right-hander struck out six batters in a row. Then, after allowing a run in the sixth—on a David Fletcher RBI double into the left-center field gap—Cole struck out the next three hitters he faced to get out of the jam.
Each of those last three strikeouts came on a fastball, the last of which was clocked over 100 mph.
"Fletcher hit the ball off him for the one run, but he's able to buckle down and go through the heart of their order and keep it at one run right there," Boone said. "Just a really strong performance."
In the seventh, coming back out of the visitor's dugout for one more inning after 101 pitches, Cole slapped his mitt with emotion as he got Angels catcher Max Stassi to flail at perfectly executed slider off the outside corner with two strikes. Set up by a swing-and-miss on a fastball earlier in the count, Cole had his 32nd whiff of the night. 18 of those came on his fastball.
"I thought it was a combination of a few things," Cole said, assessing one of his best starts in a Yankees uniform. "We were executing really well on four pitches, thought that we were unpredictable and able to use the fastball and challenge guys over the plate once we got the lead."
The Yankees aren't too far removed from their historic 13-game winning streak, but had dropped four consecutive games, losing all kinds of momentum. Ending a tough road trip on the West Coast with a big win, leading into an off day before the Yankees' homestand beginning on Friday in the Bronx, Boone agreed that Cole's performance gave his club a chance to exhale in the throws of a playoff race.
In other words, the $324 million ace did exactly what he's supposed to do.
"This is what we paid him to come over here to do," designated hitter Luke Voit said. "When his spot is up, we expect to win every time."
Wednesday night's performance was more than a marvelous display for Cole's party in the stands, those that made the trip from his hometown of Newport Beach. It was the latest bullet point on the right-hander's Cy Young Award résumé and another reminder for his teammates of why they should be grateful that Cole is a Yankee.
"I know he was talking with the Dodgers, [Angels], a couple of other teams,” Judge said. “I was just out in the outfield, thinking, ‘Thank goodness he’s wearing his away jersey right now and not a white-and-red jersey.' He’s that good, a guy that can change a franchise.”
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