The Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to a record contract for moments like this. A winner-take-all matchup with your biggest rival on the national stage.
And yet, after recording just six outs on Tuesday night at Fenway Park, Cole was forced to make the long and lonely walk back to his dugout, lasting just two-plus innings as the Yankees fell short in the American League Wild Card Game.
Cole gave up three earned runs on two early home runs, departing with two men on base and nobody out in the third inning. He walked two batters, allowing four hits while striking out three.
The bullpen put together six strong innings, but it was too little too late as the offense never woke up. New York's season came to an end with a 6-2 loss.
Asked after the game how he felt about his performance, putting his club in a hole early on in a must-win game, Cole was blunt in his reply.
"Sick to my stomach," he said.
From the very start, it looked like the ace didn't have his best stuff.
Cole had shaky command as early as the first few hitters of the ballgame, eventually walking Rafael Devers with two outs. The next batter was Xander Bogaerts, who pounced on a 89-mph changeup right down the middle, swatting a two-run home run to center field.
As much as the right-hander looked a bit sharper in the second—finally flexing his put-away pitches—those struggles returned when he got back to the mound in the top of the third.
Four pitches into the frame, Kyle Schwarber caught up to a high fastball, launching it 435 feet and over the right-field wall. After a single and a walk, manager Aaron Boone had seen enough, calling to the bullpen.
Cole was making the fifth start of his postseason career in a winner-take-all game, tying Roger Clemens for the most by a pitcher in Major League Baseball history. Cole has been lights out in the past, pitching on the road in the playoffs, but Tuesday wasn't his night.
Entering play against Boston, Cole had a 2.55 ERA with a 5-2 record in eight previous postseason starts on the road. Overall, Cole was 8-4 with a 2.68 ERA (25 earned runs over 84 frames) across 13 career postseason starts.
In Tuesday's Wild Card Game, Boston was able to utilize their experience and past success against the starter, though. Cole struggled earlier in the year at Fenway, pitching to the tune of a dreadful 6.19 ERA with 11 earned runs allowed in three starts. The two long balls from Bogaerts and Schwarber were the sixth and seventh homers Cole had surrendered to Boston this season in just 18 innings pitched.
Boone handed the ball off to right-hander Clay Holmes, who quickly extinguished Boston's third-inning rally and kept the score at 3-0. Cole said after the game that taking him out was the "right move," bringing in the best pitcher available to induce a ground ball. Holmes did just that to get a double play ball and end the frame.
As much as Cole's poor performance came at the worst possible time, it's important to point out that New York wouldn't have gotten to this point without the right-hander. Cole will receive votes for this year's AL Cy Young Award, winning 16 games over 30 starts while posting a tremendous 3.23 ERA with 243 strikeouts in 181.1 innings pitched.
That doesn't mean going home won't sting for Cole this winter.
"This is the worst feeling in the world. And it happens to 29 teams every year, going home early and not achieving your ultimate goal," Cole said. "Focusing on all the good that maybe put us in this opportunity or the good that you did in the regular season, there's really nothing that you can do to make it feel any better."