Before the 2020 season, the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to a nine-year, $324 million deal, making him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history. They did it with October glory in mind. They saw him as the missing piece in their chase of a World Series championship, which has evaded the organisation despite all of their money and efforts since 2009.
Cole, 32, was asked to rescue the Yankees from elimination in Sunday’s Game 4 of the American League division series against the Cleveland Guardians. He pitched seven good innings, survived a potentially fatal mistake in the ninth inning, and saved the Yankees’ depleted bullpen.
The Yankees fell by four runs to the Boston Red Sox in last year’s American League wild-card game, in which Cole laboured. Given a second opportunity with the season on the line, Cole kept a threatening Guardians lineup scoreless and led the Yankees to a 4-2 victory that tied the best-of-five series at two games each and forced a winner-take-all Game 5. Both victories for the Yankees in this series were begun by Cole.
Game 5 between the Yankees and the Guardians will be played at Yankee Stadium on Monday night, with Jameson Taillon against Aaron Civala to start for the Yankees.
The winner will play the constantly competitive Houston Astros, who are making their sixth consecutive trip in the American League Championship Series. The Astros lost the 2017 World Series against the Braves.
During the first half of the American League regular season in 2022, the Yankees and Astros were the top teams. In contrast, when the Yankees faltered in the second half, the Astros gained ground. While both clubs got first-round byes in the American League, the Astros were the top seed because they had won 106 more games than the Yankees.
The Guardians, who won 92 games and the weaker American League Central during the regular season, have shown to be a formidable opponent in the playoffs. However, one of the finest strikeout pitchers in the game, Cole, was able to neutralise a Guardians lineup that puts the ball in play often. Even though he allowed six hits, Cole avoided trouble by striking out eight Guardians to just one walk.
Cole also received assistance from his offence, namely from centre fielder Harrison Bader. Due to a foot ailment, Bader did not make his Yankees debut until late September, even though he was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals shortly before the August 2 trade deadline. Bader has given a spark since wearing the pinstripes, particularly in the playoffs.
In Game 1, Bader hit a home run. He repeated the feat in Game 3. Sunday, with the Yankees ahead 1-0 in the second inning, Bader hit another home run.
Bader hit a cutter over the centre of the plate off of Guardians starting pitcher Cal Quantrill, giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead with third baseman Josh Donaldson on second after a single.
However, the Yankees learned the hard way in the previous two games that the Guardians are relentless. As they did throughout the series, the Guardians frustrated the Yankees by making frequent contact with their bats and preventing several hits with their gloves.
In the third inning, with two men on and two outs, Guardians third baseman José Ramrez, one of the finest all-around players in baseball, hit an out-of-zone Cole fastball into left field for an RBI single. However, the Yankees finished the inning when they threw Ramrez out at the plate.
The next inning, Guardians designated hitter Josh Naylor capitalised on Cole’s greatest vulnerability, his tendency to allow home runs. He fouled off three Cole breaking balls before he was able to handle a low 98 mph fastball and cut the Guardians’ lead to 3-2. As he rounded the bases, Naylor swayed his arms like he was carrying a baby, maybe in allusion to his victory against Cole in that at-bat.
The Guardians’ defence kept the score tight. In the fifth inning, with two Yankees on base, Ramrez made a deft catch on Gleyber Torres’ ground ball to initiate a double play with All-Star second baseman Andrés Giménez.
The Yankees, who led the big league in home runs during the regular season, adopted the Guardians’ flair in the sixth inning to gain a little breathing distance. Star right fielder Aaron Judge reached on an infield single, followed by first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s double, and Giancarlo Stanton’s sacrifice fly that scored Judge giving the Yankees a 4-2 lead.
Then, Cole faced a crucial time. When Giménez singled with one out in the seventh inning, the typically steady Bader mishandled the ball, enabling Giménez to go to second. Boone kept Cole in the game after he threw 101 pitches despite the fact that his bullpen was depleted due to overuse and injury.
Cole knocked out first baseman Gabriel Arias with six pitches at a velocity of 98 miles per hour. Then, with his 110th delivery, he struck out the pinch-hitter Will Brennan, pumping his fist as he jumped off the mound. Even though Clay Holmes and Wandy Peralta, who each threw 27 pitches in Game 3 on Saturday, combined to pitch the last two innings, it was Cole who extended the Yankees’ season by at least one day.