In what has become a recurring theme for the Yankees during the Baby Bomber era, they fell short in the postseason, with the key culprit a pitching staff stretched to its limits. Shorter outings by starters means overburdened relievers, which means season-ending dingers. On the year, New York’s starting staff pitched to a 4.24 ERA (4.19 FIP). Pretty meh all around, but the team did toss a few gems.
As part of the Pinstripe Alley season review series, I’m going to count down the five best starts of the year according to game score. Here’s a primer on how the metric works. Game score has its flaws, but it will do just fine for this countdown. How kindly did it treat the Yankees this season?
5. Gerrit Cole versus Toronto Blue Jays (Box Score) (PSA Recap) (Video)
Date: September 16th Pitching Line: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K Game Score: 73
Ah, yes, the Kyle Higashioka three-homer game. While the story of that game will always focus on the offense, including a barrage of home runs, Cole’s performance deserves remembering. As with any of his starts, it felt like the right-hander had a chance to etch his name into the history books; he opened this one with five no-hit innings. While he gave up a run on a handful of hits, he still tossed one impressive game.
4. Gerrit Cole versus Boston Red Sox (Box Score) (PSA Recap) (Video)
Date: August 14th Pitching Line: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 1 HR Game Score: 73
Would you look at that, Cole had a great pitching performance with Gary Sánchez behind the plate. Huh. Who knew that was allowed? Cole was a whiff machine, making Cesar Puello look totally overmatched. Sure, he gave up the obligatory homer, this one to Alex Verdugo, but hey, what a nasty outing.
3. J.A. Happ versus New York Mets (Box Score) (PSA Recap) (Video)
Date: August 29th Pitching Line: 7.1 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K Game Score: 77
You might remember this game as the one where Dellin Betances threw a wild pitch to give the Bombers a walk-off win. This happened right when the Yankees found themselves in the midst of a brutal slump, when the Next Man Up magic wore off, and the club couldn’t hit at all. J.A. Happ took a 1-0 lead and pitched one of the best games of the season, but with his pitch count nearing 100, Aaron Boone lifted him for Adam Ottavino. Things worked out, eventually, and this won’t be the last time you see Happ on our list.
2. Gerrit Cole versus Baltimore Orioles (Box Score) (PSA Recap) (Video)
Date: September 11 Pitching Line: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K Game Score: 81
Cole against the Orioles seemed like a lock for the number one entry. Factor in a complete-game effort (seven-inning doubleheaders) and wow, I am shocked this didn’t claim the top spot. The Yankees’ ace made it look easy, carrying the Bombers on his back, allowing just two hits in the effort to spare a depleted bullpen. This kind of outing is exactly what the Yankees envisioned when they signed him.
J.A. Happ versus Boston Red Sox (Box Score) (PSA Recap) (Video)
Date: September 19th Pitching Line: 8 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K Game Score: 83
Happ went on a tear down the stretch in 2020, taking criticism made by Brian Cashman and turning it into his own personal bulletin-board material. This game against the Red Sox, however, represented his pinnacle. The veteran southpaw tossed eight shutout innings, and he made it look easy, all to cap off a ten-game winning streak. The Yankees and Happ will likely go separate ways after an up-and-down two and a half years, but this one counts as a doozy of a farewell performance.