Atop the mound at Minute Maid Park, Gerrit Cole solidified his reputation as one of the best pitchers on the planet back in 2019, pitching his way to a career year with the Astros.
Two years later, in his return to Houston after signing a record-setting deal with the Yankees, the ace rose to the occasion—in more ways than one—with a gutsy, old-fashioned performance, dominating on the national stage.
Cole held Houston's high-octane lineup to just three hits in a complete-game shutout Saturday, firing in a career-high 129 pitches to help the Yankees secure a 1–0 victory. Sending in 66 fastballs, the right-hander took his traditional intensity between the lines into the stratosphere, giving his club everything they needed to hold onto their slim one-run lead with a short-handed bullpen.
"Probably one of the great ones I've ever seen," manager Aaron Boone said after the victory on Saturday evening. "That's about as special as it gets."
As if Cole shoving against his former team was impressive enough, the context makes it more so. The right-hander was questionable to even take the mound on Saturday, let alone blow past his career-high in pitches thrown.
Boone revealed the ace had been receiving pumps from an IV during the Yankees' trip to Seattle earlier in the week. The All-Star's scheduled start was in jeopardy as Cole felt sick, an experience the right-hander didn't particularly want to think about on Saturday.
"You don't want to know what I was going through," said Cole, asked what the last few days had been like. "It was gross."
He may have been feeling under the weather in the days and hours leading up to first pitch, but you wouldn't have known it from the way Cole went about his business. The ace didn't allow a hit until the fifth inning, striking out 12 while issuing a pair of walks.
With two outs in the ninth inning, and the tying run on first base, Boone made his way out of the visiting dugout, walking briskly toward his ace. While the skipper revealed after the fact that he wasn't strictly planning to take Cole out of the game in that moment, a fiery conversation ensued as the right-hander made it clear he wasn't leaving until he finished what he started.
Television cameras picked up Cole yelling as Boone and the rest of New York's infielders convened around the mound.
"I said the F-word a lot and I kind of just blacked out," Cole said of the climactic point in the game. "I don't really remember what I told him, to be honest."
After Boone retreated, Cole dug in to face the ever-dangerous Yordan Álvarez. It was Cole's final hitter either way, and he made it count, sizzling in three fastballs to strike the slugger out and end the game. His final pitch—a 99.1-mph heater—whistled past Álvarez's lumber, igniting an emphatic fist pump from the ace.
It was Aaron Judge's solo home run in the third inning off Zack Greinke that turned out to be the difference as New York was held to six scattered base hits in the contest.
With closer Aroldis Chapman struggling of late, top reliever Jonathan Loáisiga on the COVID-19 injured list and Chad Green unavailable after a lengthy outing the day before, Cole recognized the importance of pitching deep into the game. Once he got going, the adrenaline kicked in.
"I thought just execution of pitches overall," said Cole, walking through the masterpiece. "We had four going and we were able to stay out of the heart of the plate when we needed to. And we were able to challenge when we needed to."
It's not a surprise to see Cole pitch well, but considering the results he's had recently—factoring in concerns regarding a possible reliance on sticky substances since MLB's crackdown—the complete game was a statement. Cole's club needed an ace-like performance as they continue to try and crawl back in the standings and he delivered.
"People can say what they want about different things going on or he's not the same but he is the same," Judge said. "He brought the intensity tonight, we fed off him all night and to keep a team like the Astros, shut them out for all nine is pretty impressive."
Over his previous six outings, Cole had pitched to a 5.24 ERA, allowing four-plus earned runs in his last two starts each.
Cole was returning to face his old team, managing an undisclosed illness leading up to his outing and carrying the weight of New York's disappointing start to the season and a recent personal skid. Mix all of those factors together and Cole never faltered. He was at the top of his game.
In other words, that's why the Yankees are paying Cole the big bucks.
"That's guts. That's heart," Judge said. "That's why he's our ace."
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