The Yankees came into this important two-game set in Boston on a relative high, winners of six of eight. They nominally had the man they wanted on the mount, Gerrit Cole, ready to run the win streak to three and to calm fears of a potential blown division lead.
But for much of the night, it seemed that the narrative would be that of Cole’s struggles in big games at Fenway Park. Cole entered having allowed 20 runs across 24 innings in Boston as a Yankee, and put forth another odd, frustrating start. Yet the story instead was that of Aaron Judge, once again putting the team on his back. And in a callback to the team’s marvelous first half of the season, it was also a story of the Yankees finding a way to win a game that seemed just out of their grasp, this one a 7-6 extra-innings caper.
Before Judge could put on his cape, his team would have to find itself in a spot where they needed to be saved. The game started innocently enough, though, with Cole working a perfect first, before finding himself facing rookie Triston Casas with two outs and a runner on in the second. Cole’s 97-mph heater drifted back over the middle of the plate, and Casas climbed the ladder to smoke a two-run dinger:
The next inning, Reese McGuire, he of the career 82 OPS+, came to the plate. This time, Cole located his 96-mph four-seamer just where he wanted, up and in on the hands of the lefty-swinging catcher. No matter, McGuire yanked his hands in and took Cole yard for a solo shot:
These two homers encapsulated what’s so often gone wrong for Cole in 2022. With Casas’ dinger, Cole made a mistake, getting too much of the plate with a fastball, before watching that mistake get punished to the fullest extent. With McGuire, Cole made a much better pitch; since 2020, similar fastballs put in play have produced just a .264 wOBA.
This year, Cole has made too many mistakes, particularly when commanding his fastball, and he’s gotten punished for it. He’s also had a mystifying number of better pitches, like the one to McGuire, get sent into orbit. Countless times this year, Cole has been a victim of his own fallibility, and the randomness that can make baseball so weird and fun. Both phenomena struck within an inning tonight.
As crushing as the homers off Cole were, they weren’t back-breaking, and the Yankees did stay in the fight. They had quickly tied it in the second inning, with Marwin Gonzalez pulling a Nick Pivetta fastball over the Boston bullpen for a two-run homer.
And Cole also settled in after the early bumps, again mirroring so many of the patterns that we’ve grown accustomed to with him this year. The Red Sox could do nothing with Cole’s slider in particular, whiffing on two-thirds of their swings against the breaker. Cole generated whiffs on over 21 percent of all his pitches, his third-highest figure of any start this year. As ever, Cole retains the ability to look brilliant even as he infuriates.
The game went to the sixth with the Yankees trailing 3-2, and that’s when the Aaron Judge show started. Judge led off the inning, and took one more step toward history:
Number 56 was a brilliant display of opposite-field prowess, with Judge lining a Pivetta curveball 110 mph off the bat with startling ease. Just like that, the score was level at three.
Just as promptly did the Red Sox untie things. Cole tried to elevate a fastball to Xander Bogaerts, and the shortstop lined it to right, just barely keeping it fair for a Fenway-style solo homer.
Cole finished the sixth and finished his night. He managed the six frames and allowed just four hits, three of them homers, striking out ten and walking two. He was at once as spectacular and frustrating as ever. If you need an outing to bury in a time capsule that best captures what it was like to watch Gerrit Cole in 2022, this might be the one.
Down 4-3, another tight, tough loss seemed to be in the offing, but again, Judge came to the rescue. After his slick opposite-field job in the sixth, Judge did it the old-fashioned way in the eighth, simply smashing one over the Green Monster:
For those of us tasked with describing in words the journey of this Yankees season, we are faced with an unenviable position at this point, as there just aren’t any words left to adequately describe what Judge is doing. His nightly dominance is a wonder, as breathtaking as it is vital to his team’s hopes. This version of Aaron Judge is the best athlete I’ve ever seen don a Yankee uniform, and documenting his historic march has been nothing short of a privilege.
In relief of Cole, Lucas Luetge, Lou Trivino, Jonathan Loaisiga and Clay Holmes combined to blank Boston for the final three innings, sending the game to extras. There, Aaron Hicks drew a crucial pinch-hit walk to put two on, but Gonzalez grounded into a brutal double play, allowing Boston to make the easy decision to grant Judge a free pass to first.
But Giancarlo Stanton worked a walk to load the bases, and up stepped Gleyber Torres:
Torres did a fabulous job staying in on a down-and-in sinker from Jeurys Familia, lining one into the gap and clearing the bases. Three runs score, 7-4 Yankees.
New York would need every one of those runs. Holmes stayed on for the tenth and promptly hit a batter, then bounced back for a strikeout before giving way to Wandy Peralta. A single brought in a run and put two on, and a wild pitch brought in another and put the tying run on second with two outs and the dangerous Rafael Devers at the plate.
Devers fought through a tough seven-pitch at-bat. But with his final offering, Peralta got Devers to swing through a nasty 2-2 slider, ending the threat and putting into the books one of the more heart-stopping wins of this Yankee campaign:
By any model, the Yankees have all but cinched a playoff spot, and are huge favorites to win the AL East. Mathematically, the games they’re playing aren’t huge. But in the moment, a game like this feels like it means the world. The Yankees have won three straight, and are slowly starting to resemble the team that ran roughshod over the AL for the season’s first three months. They are led by a hitter with no peer, one who seemingly makes history on a nightly basis. They lead the AL East by six games, but most importantly, they’re starting to feel like a team that can do damage again.
With their magic number down to 15, the Yankees will go for the mini-two-game sweep tomorrow night at Fenway. Nestor Cortes will face Brayan Bello, and Bello will deliver that first pitch at 7:10pm ET.