One Pitch Casts Shadow On Memorable Opener For Gerrit Cole

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NEW YORK — Opening Day was a momentous occasion for Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. 

The right-hander received an ovation from Yankees fans at Yankee Stadium and took the mound in pinstripes with his dad and several family members looking on in person, both for the first time.

Asked to assess his performance after New York's extra-innings loss to the Blue Jays, however, Cole had one thing on his mind. 

"I just want that slider back."

With one out in the sixth inning, and his pitch count approaching 90, Cole served up a slider on a plater to Blue Jays right fielder Teoscar Hernández. The slugger pounded the hanging breaking ball, sending a game-tying solo home run 437 feet to left field. 

Cole went on to walk the next hitter he faced (first baseman Vlad Guerrero Jr.) and with 97 pitches thrown, Yankees manager Aaron Boone made the slow stroll out to the mound to call to the bullpen.

"Bad pitch and then I got into the hole against Vladdy, who worked it well. Last fastball was not totally competitive and it didn't really even pressure a take on him," Cole recalled. "I just wanted to finish a little better and obviously, to have held the lead there."

The game would stay knotted at two apiece until Toronto jumped in front two pitches into the 10th inning. New York's offense struggled all afternoon, leaving a total of 10 runners on base, failing to produce any big hits when they needed it most. 

As much as the result wasn't what Cole wanted, his first outing in 2021 was a strong one. Other than the two runs allowed, on five hits, Cole struck out eight batters. 

That's the second-most strikeouts by a starter on Opening Day in Yankees franchise history. Second only to right-hander Tim Leary who had nine strikeouts for New York in 1991.

"I thought Gerrit threw well, I really did," Boone said. "I thought they put together some tough at bats against him, got his pitch count up there, but I thought he was overall pretty sharp."

After Cole's final spring training start in Tampa last month, the right-hander received a standing ovation from a small crowd at George M. Steinbrenner Field. He went on to say that while he appreciated the cheers, he was eager to give fans a reason to applaud and celebrate once the regular season begins. 

With 10,850 fans in the Bronx on Thursday, those cheers in Tampa paled in comparison to the roars he received at Yankee Stadium. The consensus among the players was that the crowd felt far more than 20 percent capacity.

"It's a lot different just to feel the energy of the people in the park. It was welcome," Cole said. "Family being here. Certainly, after not being able to see me much last year, it means a lot. It was quite cold early, but it shaped up to be a pretty, pretty pleasant day for the most part outside of the loss. So it was okay, I would have liked to have gotten a win, though."

If Cole doesn't hang the first-pitch slider to Hernández, Thursday's game could've ended differently. No use in dwelling on one home run ball, though. Cole is looking forward, excited to continue to pitch in front of a home crowd in pinstripes.

"I'm glad we had people here and it's a lot better than playing without fans last year and in that environment," Cole said.

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