Yankees' Gerrit Cole Is 'Pitching His Best Baseball' Just in Time For October

Max Goodman

Gerrit Cole had already begun to strut toward the Yankees' dugout by the time the final pitch of his outing on Tuesday night crossed home plate.

It was a backdoor changeup to Blue Jays' left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., fading ever so slightly back onto the outside corner. Kyle Higashioka barely had to move his glove behind the dish. 

Painting the edge of the zone with a flawlessly executed two-strike delivery was the perfect way for Cole to cap off his latest masterpiece. His final tuneup before the postseason begins featured seven innings of one-run baseball.

"I was feeling pretty good tonight," Cole said. "Just thought overall the execution of pitches was at a really high level, overall most of the pitches were executed, whether they were balls or strikes, the way we wanted to."

Beyond one solo home run, off the bat of third baseman Cavan Biggio, Cole was in the driver's seat all night long. The ace finished with seven strikeouts, pounding the strike zone while efficiently utilizing his secondary pitches. 

When it was all set and done, Cole had permitted only five base hits, not walking a single batter. After the 12-1 victory, New York's ninth win in its last 11 games, manager Aaron Boone said this is the best he's seen from Cole on the mound in a Yankees uniform.

"I just feel like he's got a real good understanding of his attack plan," Boone said. "Developing the game plan as the week unfolds and then going out there and executing it. Just using all his pitches effectively, not being afraid to shy away from any pitch in any situation and he's filling up the strike zone. Really just continue to be encouraged by what we see."

Remember when Cole snapped his historic 20-game winning streak, rattling off three losses in a row? Since then, Cole has been back to pure dominance, pitching like one of the best in baseball once again.

In the month of September, Cole is 3-1 and leading the Majors with a 1.00 ERA (minimum of 25 innings pitched). He's even cut down on the home run ball, allowing just two in his last four trips to the rubber after serving up a dozen long balls through his first eight appearances in 2020.

Narrowing down to just his previous three starts, including his two-hit shutout of the Baltimore Orioles on Sept. 11, Cole is on a modest three-game winning streak and has allowed only two runs to score in his last 24 innings pitched.

"When you're behind in the count against a guy like Gerrit, you're in for a pretty tough at-bat," Higashioka said, the backstop that's worked as Cole's personal catcher over his last four starts. "I think it gives us a big confidence boost because we know he's going to go out there and do his thing and give us a chance to win every time."

READ: Has James Paxton Thrown His Final Pitch in a Yankees Uniform?

In order for Cole to be rested and available for the first game of the postseason, Tuesday night is expected to be the right-hander's final outing of the regular season. Beyond a few hiccups in late-August, the Yankees' white whale has pitched exactly as advertised.

His seven wins on the season, and 94 strikeouts through 73 innings pitched, are both tied for second-most in baseball. Across a total of 12 outings, he's posted a solid 2.84 ERA.

With a slew of unprecedented challenges flung in Cole's direction in his first season in pinstripes, the 30-year-old articulated that he feels like he's done a good job overcoming obstacles and improving with each trip to the mound this year.

"Outside of things that we can't control like the virus and the shortened season, every time we took the ball we just tried to get a little bit better, gave our team a chance to win more often times than not and I've settled in now with the guys and with the team in the locker room," he said. "I'm glad that we were able to put together a pretty good campaign for as short as it was."

Sure, coming to The Big Apple with a record-setting contract as one of the best pitchers on the planet, Cole was expected to produce. Boone emphasized, however, just how challenging this season has been, referring to his ace's overall performance to this point as "outstanding."

"I think we take for granted just because a guy is talented and really good at his craft that he'll be able to throw, but he's gotten better as the season has gone on," Boone explained. "He's entrenched himself in our culture and with our team and I feel like he's pitching his best baseball that we've seen at this point as he gets ready to head into the postseason for the first time with us."

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If these last few outings—and a locked in performance on Tuesday night—are any indication of what's to come, Cole is poised to dominate in the playoffs. After all, as Boone emphasized, that's one of the many reasons why New York emptied its pockets to reel him in this offseason.

"We brought him here to be that ace that can go up against anyone so I'm excited for him about where he's at as his season has unfolded," Boone said. "He's very much ready to go hopefully set a good tone for us starting in the postseason."

As for Cole, it's safe to say he's pretty excited for his postseason debut with the Yankees as well.

"I'm looking forward to it quite a bit," he said.

The lineups that he'll face? Not so much. 

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For more from Max Goodman, follow him on Twitter @MaxTGoodman. Follow ITP on Twitter @SI_Yankees and Facebook @SIYankees