The answer for what has beset Gerrit Cole and the Yankees was at their fingertips — the Twins.
Nothing improves any miserable situation for the Yankees — turns it from maximum to Minny-mum — like the Twins as the opponent. So the Yankee bats have awoken at Target Field, and if Cole didn’t exactly put his controversy to sleep Wednesday night, the ace handled scrutiny and doubt well with six strong innings.
More stoic and serious than even his normal stoic, serious game-day self, Cole did not wilt with the knowledge that his every movement to cap or hair would be monitored and every revolution per minute on his pitches evaluated. He is center stage, after all, in the mounting fixation on pitchers using illegal sticky substances to enhance deception on their offerings.
Cole, with steep increases in spin rate since joining the Astros before the 2018 season, already was viewed as dubious. Then his spin rates went down noticeably while giving up five runs in five innings to the Rays in his previous start. Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson publicly called out Cole for suddenly losing spin just as MLB was increasing its detective work on the matter and moving toward instituting in-game inspections and possibly penalties. Then in his first public comments Tuesday, Cole hemmed and hawed when asked a “yes or no” question if he used Spider Tack to gain an illegal edge. He offered plenty of spin, but no definitive answer.
His better response came against Donaldson and the Twins. Cole retired Donaldson in all three of his at-bats, the first two by strikeouts followed by what appeared to be at least a slight glare toward the Twins third baseman. With the Yankees well ahead, Cole was touched up for solo homers from Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano on fastballs that were down from his average rotations on those pitches.
Overall, Cole’s average revolutions were again down on his four-seam fastball and slider, but right in the normal range for his curve. This is the righty’s plight now. He is clearly not the only pitcher with loads of suspicion surrounding him — Donaldson, in fact, noted before the game that fact. But he is the most expensive pitcher ever with a $324 million contract, still makes more on average per year ($36 million) than any player ever and is the ace of the most famous team on the planet. That is going to make him as much the poster boy for this as anyone, but perhaps his enemy, Trevor Bauer.
Cole struck out nine after failing to top seven in four straight starts. He walked none, but did at times struggle with command. The one worry the Yankees took away quickly from their, um, glue guy is questions whether they would win this game. No surprise. The Yanks are 105-37 (playoffs included) against Minnesota since 2002. And these last-place Twins are no playoff team.
After beating Minnesota with eight runs and 14 hits Tuesday, the Yanks totaled 15 hits to win 9-6 Wednesday. They had nine extra-base hits, including four homers — two by Giancarlo Stanton and one by Aaron Judge came on 0-2 pitches from Randy Dobnak. The Yanks have not hit three homers on 0-2 pitches in a game since at least 1987 (Baseball Reference data goes back to 1988). The Mariners on June 7, 2019, were the last team to do it. Miguel Andujar hit the Yankees’ other homer in the middle game of this series — his fifth in his last eight games.
So has the Yankee offense returned to its powerful pedigree or simply returned to mauling Minnesota pitching? For Cole, regardless of the reason, the timing worked on Wednesday. He had the eyes of baseball on him for this start and removing the likelihood of losing quickly erased a concern.
Before this game, fellow Yankee pitcher Michael King had proclaimed of Cole, “He’s still the best pitcher in baseball. It’s just up to him to go out and prove himself.” Jacob deGrom has an argument about the best pitcher in baseball. But against the Yankees’ favorite patsy, Cole did deliver sturdiness in a storm.
For that you have to give him a (clean) hand.
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