When the going is tough, you call on your best players to carry the team. That’s exactly what the Yankees got from Gerrit Cole. Their ace turned in a vintage performance, collecting a season-high 15 strikeouts, as the Angels’ bats were just no match for his overpowering stuff.
DJ LeMahieu led off the game with a sharp single up the middle, though he was immediately erased when Anthony Rizzo grounded into a double play. (Thankfully, that was the Angels’ only twin-killing, so it didn’t presage another five-GIDP night.) Aaron Judge added a 110-mph single of his own, but the top of the inning ended on a Luke Voit flyout to right.
Cole came out of the gates on the front foot. He struck out a pair in the first inning before adding another in the second. The only blemish through the first two was a leadoff double by Jared Walsh in the second, but Cole retired the next three without much trouble.
After a quiet second inning, the Yankees made some more noise in the third. LeMahieu walked, Rizzo singled, and Judge walked — all with two outs — to load the bases for Voit. And Voit did what Voit has been doing in the last few weeks, delivering a two-run single to spot the Yankees and Cole an early 2-0 lead.
LUUUUUUUUUUKE drives in ✌️ pic.twitter.com/aHBqnVwJjG— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 1, 2021
This game always carried the promise of a battle of AL heavyweights, with presumptive AL MVP Shohei Ohtani facing AL Cy Young favorite Cole, and they did not disappoint. Cole held the upper hand through the first three frames, striking Ohtani out twice, both on elevated, overpowering fastballs. Two K’s in the inning gave him five through three, with all four pitches working.
In the fourth, Rougned Odor reached with a perfectly placed one-out drag bunt single, and then advanced to second on a weak Andrew Velazquez groundout. Brett Gardner lined a single up the middle to drive Odor home, extend the Yankees lead to 3-0, and knock rookie starter Packy Naughton from the game:
Cole only grew more dominant as the outing entered the middle innings. He struck out the side on 15 pitches in the fourth and the first two batters in the fifth. Including Ohtani’s strikeout to end the third, this meant that Cole struck out six hitters in a row. He tallied 10 through five innings, tying David Cone’s 1998 franchise record for most starts in a season with double-digit strikeouts at nine.
The flamethrower hit his only bump in the sixth, with Jack Mayfield leading off with a single and David Fletcher driving him home with a double to make it 3-1. Cole bounced back in dominant fashion, fanning the next three batters as he crossed the 100-pitch threshold. All three strikeout pitches were elevated fastballs at 99 mph or faster, including Cole’s third strikeout of the night of Ohtani.
It was a truly overpowering performance from the Yankees’ ace. He set a new high-water mark in strikeouts this season with 15 — tying Jacob deGrom and Corbin Burnes for most in the majors this season — while setting a new career-high of 32 whiffs. He achieved an extraterrestrial whiff rate of 53 percent and called strike plus whiff rate of 43 percent. He now has 215 strikeouts on the year, which leads MLB and puts him 33 away from Ron Guidry’s single-season franchise record of 248 set in 1978.
Cole’s final line on the night: seven innings, four hits, one run, no walks, and 15 strikeouts on 116 pitches. In a word, it was masterful:
It’s a Cole world, after all. pic.twitter.com/mdBtLNAna3— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 2, 2021
Aaron Judge gave the Yankees a little more breathing room in the eighth, pulling a 1-2 hanging slider from Steve Cishek into the Yankees’ bullpen. The solo shot came off his bat at 100.6 mph, traveled 397 feet, gave New York a 4-1 lead and Judge an even 30 on the season.
Jonathan Loáisiga come on for the eighth and was downright dominant in his own right. He retired the side in order on just six pitches. He was so efficient that one wondered if he’d be brought back out for the ninth. However, the Yankees felt that the three-run cushion was the perfect opportunity to get Aroldis Chapman some work. He rewarded their decision by retiring the side in order to lock down the save, securing the 4-1 victory.
This was a huge victory for the Yankees to right the ship. They avoided the sweep, ended the four-game losing streak, and will head back to the Bronx on a high note, still in front of the AL Wild Card race by a few games.
The Yankees have an off-day tomorrow, and then start a three-game series against the Orioles on Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM ET, with Néstor Cortes Jr. expected to face John Means. That will also kick off a stretch of 20 games in 20 days for the Yankees so buckle in; the stretch run has begun.