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Yankees 3, Blue Jays 1: Never count out Gerrit Cole

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The Cole/Higashioka tandem was too much for Toronto.

MLB: ALDS-New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Although it took Gerrit Cole a little while to get into a rhythm on Monday night against the Blue Jays, he found it in the middle of the second and didn’t lose it. Back by a pair of homers from his catcher, Kyle Higashioka, Cole recovered nicely and led the Yankees to a 3-1 victory in Dunedin (Toronto’s current home-away-from-home).

It was a bit of an inauspicious beginning for Cole, who may just been getting used to a mound that is not his favorite. After a perfect first inning from Robbie Ray, Cole got into a jam in the home half when Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. knocked back-to-back hits through the right side. Bichette’s was cracked, but Guerrero’s was an 81.1-mph exit velocity bleeder that just rolled through. It happens.

Bichette moved to third, and during Randal Grichuk’s at-bat, Cole bounced a wild pitch that Higashioka blocked to keep Bichette at the hot corner. However, Guerrero still advanced, and that might have cost Cole a double-play grounder, as Grichuk promptly hit a roller to short. Only one out could be recorded, and Bichette scored to make it 1-0, Toronto.

The second didn’t go much easier for Cole, who walked Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and gave up Rowdy Tellez’s long-awaited first hit of the season to put runners on first and second with no one out. I suspect that this only angered him, as he promptly struck out the next three batters in a row to the cut the rally short. Rookie Josh Palacios just looked hopeless:

Meanwhile, Ray surprisingly stymied the Yankees lineup. Through four innings, they didn’t have a single hit against the veteran southpaw, who was making his season debut for Toronto.

In the fifth though, Ray ran out of gas. Rougned Odor smoked a pitch down the right-field line for the Yankees’ first hit of the ballgame. It was hit hard enough that Odor had to settle for a single, but thanks to Higashioka, it didn’t matter. Cole’s longtime pal delivered him the lead with a 416-foot, two-run blast:

That will provide some quality results as a personal catcher, huh?

The end of the second turned out to be the beginning of a remarkable run for Cole, who retired all 15 batters he faced after Tellez’s single. It was as if he took out all his early-game frustrations on the poor Jays and dazzled them with an array of nearly-unhittable pitches.

By the end of the day, Cole’s pitching line looked far better than it had any right to be: six innings, three hits, one run, one walk, and eight strikeouts. After laboring in the first two frames, he became much more efficient, stretching his 98 pitches to the end of the sixth.

It won’t be listed among his best outings of the year, but it’s definitely the type that aces like Cole would be quite proud of in hindsight. He overcame a slow start to give his team some quality innings after all, and in fact somehow churned out a dominant streak anyway.

Pitchers of Cole’s talent don’t grow on trees. Enjoy him.

Higashioka’s day would’ve already been a good one with the go-ahead dinger and Cole’s recovery, but he added the cherry on top at the start of the eighth. With Ryan Borucki now in the game for Toronto, Higashioka turned into “Higgy Pop” once more:

I don’t know what the country of Canada did to earn Higgy’s wrath, but it must have been something. His three-homer game in 2020 also came against Toronto, and YES provided this extra amusing tidbit:

The Yankees’ bullpen did a nice job of mostly wrapping this game up in tidy fashion, too. Justin Wilson and Darren O’Day combined to extend the Blue Jays’ string of outs to 20 in a row until Marcus Semien’s eighth-inning single. Bichette then walked on four pitches to briefly cause a minor bit of worry, but the sidewinder struck out Guerrero to finish his night.

Aroldis Chapman entered for the save in the ninth and Grichuk greeted him with a double that gave the Blue Jays a few cracks with the tying run at the plate. Thankfully for the Yankees, Chapman got Cavan Biggio to fly out, fanned Gurriel, and received a rather generous strike three on Tellez from home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt:

Uh, well, um, Yankees win!

The Bombers will look to turn their winning streak into a three-gamer tomorrow night in Dunedin. Jameson Taillon will square up against Jays ace Hyun Jin Ryu at 7:07pm ET.

Box Score