Saturday, July 22, 2023

Cole The Constant In Topsy Turvy Yankees Season

Gerrit Cole striking out Maikel Garcia looking to end the third inning. Photo by Jason Schott. 

The Yankees have had an up-and-down season to this point, but the one thing they can count on is their ace, Gerrit Cole, to take the mound every fifth day and deliver a solid performance.

Cole, who was the All-Star Game starting pitcher for the American League, entered Saturday’s outing against the Kansas City Royals with a record of 9-2 and a 2.78 ERA (earned run average), with his first Cy Young Award a distinct possibility.

“He’s obviously having a great season for us, but I think when you consider all that we’ve been through as a team, having that constant there at the top of the rotation, you know, has been huge for us,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said in his pregame press conference on Saturday morning. “You know, I think, especially in the month of April, you know where we came out struggling a little bit, he was that guy that, you know, every fifth day was just, you know, we’re king of throwing a win in our pockets, so he’s having a great year, he’s clearly our ace, and excited every time he takes the mound.”

The Yankees gave Cole an early lead in this one, as Billy McKinney led off with a walk against Royals starter Brady Singer, and he was driven in by a Giancarlo Stanton RBI single.

Cole came out firing, as he retired the first six Royals with ease in the first two innings, but Nick Pratto turned that on its head, as he laced one into the right field corner that landed a few rows back for a solo homer. It was the seventh homer of the year for the Royals first baseman.

The Yankees wasted no time getting the lead back, as Anthony Volpe crushed a double into the right field corner, then stole third base and scored on a sacrifice fly from Gleyber Torres that made it 2-1 Yankees.

Cole then turned it up defensively in the fourth when Bobby Witt, Jr., laid down a bunt which rolled down the left field line. Third baseman DJ LeMahieu made a stab at it when it looked like it was foul, but it curved back onto the chalk, so it was ruled fair, and Cole ended up with it, and fired down to second base to nab Witt for the first out. He then worked around an MJ Melendez single with a pair of grounders to Volpe at shortstop.

The resilient Royals would rally in the fifth, as Edward Olivares led off with a single, followed by a walk by Pratto. Cole then struck out Drew Waters and Kyle Isbel, but Maikel Garcia singled in Olivares and the game was tied at 2.

Cole then got Witt to fly out to left field, the first of five straight outs he would record to end his day on an Olivares groundout to third base to open the seventh inning before left-hander Wandy Peralta would enter the game.

Since the game was still tied at 2, Cole would get a no-decision, and his final line was: 6 1/3 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs (both earned), 1 walk, 10 strikeouts.

"I thought Gerrit was, again, great, you know, worked pretty hard in that fifth inning," Boone said after the game. "I thought his last three innings, was a little heavy there, and then coming off in the sixth, I just, I said, 'give me one batter,' and, so I wanted him to face Olivares and then have Wandy there for the bottom, and I didn't want to get in a situation where it potentially got long, and then I'm bringing in Wandy for the eighth or ninth and they're hitting for a guy, and now he's got to go through the top of the order, too. I felt good about shooting Wandy at that spot with what Gerrit had given us."

Peralta got Pratto to bounce one to first base that he covered the bag on, and then got Waters to bounce one to third to end the frame.

Kansas City would not bring Singer out for the seventh, so his final line, which came pretty close to Cole's, was: 6 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs (both earned), 1 walk, 9 strikeouts.

Carlos Hernandez entered, and DJ LeMahieu greeted him with a blast to right field for a solo home run, which put the Yankees up, 3-2. It was the 12th career home run, and second of this season, that tied the game or put his team in front in the seventh inning or later - the breakdown of the 12 is four were game-tying and eight were go-ahead HRs. The first instance this season was a game-tying home run in the seventh inning against San Diego on May 27 in an eventual Yankee win.

LeMahieu, who struggled mightily the first half of the season, has now hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games, going back to July 6, as he's hitting .317 (13-41) in that span.

Boone was asked what's been different for LeMahieu in the second half and he said, "I think just a little more explosive in the zone and that's the most overall adjustment he's made with getting his load going and getting a good little trigger going. It's subtle, but it's made a difference, I think, in just being a little more dynamic in the zone, and that's classic DJ right there, I mean, smoking a ball to center field like that, so, yes, obviously, a huge hit in the game, but it's good to see him getting some traction going.

Tommy Kahnle came on to pitch a scoreless top of the eighth inning, in which he worked around a Witt single and struck out two.

In the bottom half of the eighth, Kansas City turned to Austin Cox, who walked McKinney to open it before striking out Torres and getting Rizzo to bounce out to short.

Instead of leaving him in to face Stanton, that assignment went to Dylan Coleman, and Stanton blasted a two-run homer to center field to give the Yankees some insurance and make it 5-2, which would be the final.

Clay Holmes came on for the ninth, and he earned his 13th save of the season. Peralta earned the win to improve to 3-1, while Hernandez took the loss and is now 0-6.

The Yankees improve to 52-47 on the season, and they will look to sweep this three-game set on Sunday.

In addition, the Yankees are now 15-6 in games Cole has started this season, which is in this era of baseball a more indicative sign of his worth as an ace than his personal record.

MILITARY APPRECIATION DAY: On Saturday, before the game, fans were treated to a ceremony in which the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights flew down and landed on the Yankee Stadium field.

Photos by Jason Schott.

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