Five of the top six Yankee hitters in the order went deep tonight. Gerrit Cole wasn’t great, but he lowered his ERA and held his own after leaving last week’s start against the Blue Jays with hamstring tightness. Sal Romano was terrible in the ninth, but it didn’t matter, as the Yankees played exactly how they should against a team like the Orioles, winning the series opener, 7-2.
The Yankees, of course, had entered the season just 9-7 against Baltimore, a major reason why they’re still clawing for a postseason slot rather than comfortably sorting out the deployment of the rotation with October in mind. They really do need to sweep this series, and it would make all of us feel quite a bit better if the games weren’t close.
All of that is to say, we can thank Aaron Judge for getting the game started on the right foot:
It was a well-timed dinger too, because Cole was awful shaky in the first inning. Cedric Mullins doubled to start the frame, and ended up walking two more batters in the inning, loading the bases before sitting down Ramón Urías.
Cole managed a much better second inning, before the Yankees unloaded in the third:
Back-to-back jacks in the third inning, and two home runs that are aesthetically as different as you can possibly get. Giancarlo Stanton’s two-run shot was a popup that just kept travelling out to right field, and Luke Voit followed him up with a much more conventional moonshot to left. The duality of slam.
Cole, meanwhile, was back to his normal self after the first. He set down eight Orioles in a row, three of them via the strikeout, coming right after an underpowering bottom of the order with his fastball. His velo and spin on the number one were at normal levels, and after some first inning command issues, looked like the Cy Young front runner.
The warts started to show in the first, although it was hard to lay the blame completely at Cole’s feet. Pat Valaika hit a duck snort to left field that just managed to drop in for a single — you could even critique Stanton’s range in left — and Ryan Mountcastle doubled two batters later to get the Orioles on the board. Cole then walked Anthony Santander, bringing up DJ Stewart with the potential to make it a one-run game; he whiffed on a 99-mph fastball to end the threat.
Overall, it was a bit of a mixed bag for Cole. At his best, he was excellent, but a long first and fifth drained his pitch count and led to questions about his command, especially of the knuckle-curve and slider. If the Yankees were treating tonight as a rehab outing to grade his bum hammy, I’m sure they weren’t disappointed, but if they were hoping for Cole to take some weight off a gassed bullpen ... he didn’t really do that either.
Gleyber Torres made a terrible error in the sixth inning, botching what should have been a double play. We, and others, have already possibly over-analyzed Torres’ season, but moving him to second base was supposed to take pressure off his defense, but at least for tonight, it only added to it. (For what it’s worth, he did turn a routine grounder into a double play during the next at-bat. That wouldn’t normally be worthy of mention, but Torres has to take the few positive he can on defense.)
For a while, it seemed like the Yankee offense was going to do the classic “score early, then never again” move, but Joey Gallo continued his resurgence in the eighth:
Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Voit, and Joey Gallo all homered in the same game. The biggest issue the Yankees have had this year is that they never seem to get multiple guys in the lineup all hot at the same time.
Michael King, meanwhile, is the hero of this game. Cole didn’t go as deep as the Yankees wanted, and the bullpen was absolutely spent. Enter King, who outside of the aforementioned Torres error, was darn-near perfect in INNINGS innings. As seen earlier in the season, his strikeout numbers won’t alarm you, but his command of the strike zone and ability to get over hitter’s bats — his three fly balls of over 35 degrees negated some of the hard contact — led to quick, efficient zeros, and saved the Yankees from having to roll out three or four extra arms in relief.
Romano threw a wrench into the situation in the ninth, though, as he recorded just a single out and allowed three baserunners, one of whom scored. He left the game after taking a liner off the hand, and in came Aroldis Chapman to work his second day in a row. He threw just two fastballs out of seven pitches overall, and struck out two batters to seal the win. As an added bonus, the Blue Jays lost, so that ties the Yankees with them at the top of the Wild Card race with Boston and Seattle still to play later tonight.
This is exactly how games against the Orioles should go, and exactly how tomorrow’s should go. Five home runs, lock-down pitching, get the win and run it back the next day — Néstor Cortes Jr. gets the start at 7:05 pm Eastern.