All eyes were on Gerrit Cole on Monday as he returned to the mound following a bout of COVID that has kept him on the shelf since July 29th. The Yankees found a way to get by and go a league-best 12-4 in his absence, but seeing their ace on the mound was a breath of fresh air — especially when he lived up to the hype. Cole was excellent during this makeup game with the Angels, leading the pitching staff in a tight 2-1 victory.
Cole came out of the gate firing pellets. His first pitch to Shohei Ohtani came in at 98.8 mph, and he went on to make short work of the AL MVP frontrunner, the whiff-allergic David Fletcher, and All-Star first baseman Jared Walsh, striking out the side on 21 pitches. The only problem was that in the middle of that string of K’s, Cole fell behind Justin Upton and left a cookie down the heart of the plate. Upton took him deep for the 323rd homer of his career, and it was 1-0, Angels.
The Yankees did not wait around to respond with middling Angels starter José Suarez on the bump. Aaron Judge lined a ball to the right-field wall, though a good play on the carom by rookie Jo Adell held him to a single. It didn’t matter a bit because Joey Gallo was up next and Joey Gallo doesn’t need runners to actually be in scoring position to bring ‘em home — not when he can blister pitches like this:
The poor baseball sailed 412 feet and into the second deck at a screaming 112.1 mph. In an instant, the Yankees were on top, 2-1.
Throughout the next five frames, Cole put on a pure pitching clinic. If casual fans had just tuned in for this start, they would’ve had no idea that Cole had missed the previous two and a half weeks. An infield hit began the second, and Cole proceeded the retire the next 10 batters in a row, fanning five with some nasty stuff:
Gerrit Cole, Unfair 100mph Fastball. pic.twitter.com/eBTu88W5JF— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 16, 2021
A Brandon Marsh walk broke Cole’s streak, but he paid little heed to the interruption. He forced Max Stassi to swing at air for his ninth strikeout of the night, and then a nice running catch by center fielder Jonathan Davis brought the inning to a close.
Still nursing the meager one-run lead, Ohtani gave Cole a scare in the top of the sixth, as he ripped a 98-mph fastball that caught too much of the plate 108.6 mph and 353 feet. Fortunately for the Yankees, it hung up in the air and Giancarlo Stanton made the catch in right-center field. It was an out regardless, and Cole shook it off to induce a popup from Fletcher and an Upton grounder to third.
The only problem was that Rougned Odor bobbled the roller, allowing Upton to reach. Cole was up to 90 pitches, so with his ace coming off COVID, manager Aaron Boone decided to call it there. The right-hander was brilliant across 5.2 innings of work, punching out nine Angels while allowing just two hits, one run, a walk. It’s hard not to be anything but encouraged by how Cole looked on Monday night.
The gamble to the somewhat-early hook though was that Boone called on struggling reliever Zack Britton in a one-run game. He had the platoon advantage on the next batter, Walsh, but as Aroldis Chapman learned earlier in 2021, the man was still quite capable of taking southpaws deep. This time, however, Walsh was thwarted, as Britton began the road to rebuilding his confidence with a strikeout to end the frame.
The Yankees had been surprisingly silenced by Suarez after the Gallo homer. From the second through the fifth, their sole offense was an infield single that was immediately erased in typical 2021 Yankees fashion on a Luke Voit double play ball. In the sixth, they began to stir again, as they knocked Suarez out of the game by drawing three straight walks to load the bases with no one out.
On came veteran sidearmer Steve Cishek to face the menacing Stanton and Voit. The Yankees had a golden opportunity to extend the lead without even registering a hit. Instead, they ended up with bupkis. Stanton struck out and Voit bounced into his second twin-killing of the night, the Yankees’ league-worst 112th of the season and 15th with the bases loaded — six more than anyone else. This team has a talent, and it’s one of the most annoying talents to witness on a near-everyday basis.
Boone didn’t want to use either Jonathan Loaisiga or Lucas Luetge for a third day in a row, so he turned to two unheralded members of the bullpen to carry the slim lead into the ninth. Albert Abreu and Joely Rodríguez were up to task. Abreu entered in the seventh and did the bulk of the work by retiring all five hitters he faced, fanning Marsh and Adell along the way.
Boone then called on Rodríguez for the lefty/lefty matchup with Ohtani, and the former Ranger came through, catching the two-way star looking. That’s some high-quality late relief from two middle relievers.
The Yankees wasted another scoring opportunity in the eighth shortly after DJ LeMahieu inexplicably got himself thrown out trying to steal third with Gallo up and none out. So it was up to Chad Green to put his recent string of blown saves behind him with just the 2-1 lead entering the ninth.
As he did on Saturday, Green got the first two outs, no sweat, as he retired Fletcher on grounder to first and struck out Upton. Walsh kept the game alive by lining a ball down the left-field line for a single, bringing Phil Gosselin to the plate as the go-ahead run. Green jumped ahead of him 1-2, and after the count was evened, caught a break from home-plate umpire Junior Valentine, who ended the game on a called strike three that was outside the zone.
Those are the kinds of breaks that teams seem to get when they’re playing well, and the Yankees remain sharp. Their offense could’ve made it a lot easier, but the lack of timely hits hurts less when it all ends with a win.
The Bombers will have to bring their A-game tomorrow though, as the Red Sox are coming to town for a doubleheader with the pressure mounting on both teams. Jordan Montgomery and Luis Gil will both return to the active roster for the twin bill, the first of which begins at 1:05pm ET (Montgomery vs. Tanner Houck); the nightcap will start at 7:05pm ET (Gil vs. Nate Eovaldi).