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Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2: Gerrit Cole still effective with lower spin rates

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The Yankees eked out a win, though the bigger story may have been Cole’s solid outing despite plummeting spin rates.

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The talk that has dominated MLB headlines for the last two weeks revolves around the pending crackdown on foreign substances. Gerrit Cole sits at the center of this whirlwind of events, and his numbers from tonight will only further raise eyebrows. However, that is a discussion for another day. The Yankees narrowly defeated the Blue Jays in Buffalo to guarantee at least a series victory.

The away club wasted no time jumping on Ross Stripling in the top of the first. DJ LeMahieu reached on an error, Aaron Judge rocketed a 119-mph single to left, and Gleyber Torres walked to load the bases. Giancarlo Stanton plated DJ with a line drive sac fly to right-center, but Gio Urshela and Miguel Andújar each flew out to frustratingly end the half inning with only one run in. That sentiment would be a running theme for most of the evening.

The Blue Jays tied it right back up in the bottom half on Marcus Semien’s leadoff home run. Cole also gave up singles to Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernández, but was able to navigate around the traffic with first a double play and later, a flyout. His spin rates were drastically down, and this was something that I intently watched during the rest of his outing.

Stripling settled down after his shaky first, striking out the side in the second and retiring the Jays in order in the third and fourth. Cole followed suit, the only blemish a Cavan Biggio walk despite three straight pitches that should have been strike three in the plate appearance. The Yankees actually couldn’t muster another baserunner until a two-out walk from Brett Gardner in the fifth.

Toronto ended up taking the lead in the bottom of the fifth on a Biggio solo home run. He deposited a hanging Cole curveball over the wall in left-center to give the home team their first lead of the night.

Meanwhile, the Yankees had to wait until the seventh inning to record their second hit off Stripling. Andújar led off the inning with a cue-shot nubber down the right field line. After a Rougned Odor strikeout, Gary Sánchez entered the game as a pinch-hitter for Kyle Higashioka. Continuing his red-hot streak of the last week, he put the team on his back, absolutely demolishing a 3-1 middle-middle fastball for a pinch-hit two-run home run to put the Yankees up 3-2:

That’s my starting catcher. The 113.4-mph moonshot travelled 446 feet before landing in the auxiliary parking lot beyond the stadium in left.

Cole strung together eight effective innings, giving up two runs on four hits and one walk, while totaling four strikeouts on 104 pitches. Ominously, his spin rates were down a ton — particularly on the four-seamer, slider, and curveball — continuing a trend we saw in his starts against the Rays and Twins.

Courtesy of Statcast

Last week, I asked how worried the Yankees ought to be about Cole’s declining spin rates. That they coincide with the league announcement on foreign substances suggests that A) he used a sticky substance to enhance spin, and B) there’s no immediate fix for his rpm drop. Less spin means less movement, making pitches less deceptive and easier to hit. We saw this in Cole tying his season-low with only four strikeouts tonight.

There’s no sugar-coating it — this version of Gerrit Cole is a far-cry from the version that was bulldozing lineups in his first eight starts. That said, you don’t pitch eight innings of two-run ball by accident. Cole was hitting 101 mph in the eighth and remains a supremely talented pitcher who will keep finding ways to shut down opposing lineups, even if he’s not humiliating every batter.

Aroldis Chapman came in for the save in the ninth, and as he has done the last handful of outings, he made things interesting. He gave up a leadoff single to Vladito and double to Hernández to put both the tying and winning runs in scoring position with no outs. He blew away Randal Grichuk on a 101-mph fastball for out one, but this is where things got weird.

Santiago Espinal chopped one to Chapman, who looked like he would catch Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in a rundown off third. However, Chapman threw home too soon, requiring a rocket throw from Sánchez to barely nab Guerrero diving back to third:

Replays appeared to show him safe before the tag, but the crew stuck with the out call on the field. With two outs facing Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Chapman sailed a fastball to the backstop. However, Gary sold it as a foul tip preventing the runners from advancing. It stayed nerve-racking until the very end, with Gurriel smacking a line drive out to center that for a second looked to be the game-tying hit. Gardner speared it to secure the victory.

I need to lie down after this one. With the win, the Yankees improve to 35-32. They go for the sweep tomorrow night, with Michael King set to take the ball. First pitch is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. ET so make sure to join us in the game thread.

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