In 2001, the New York Yankees played Game 6 of the World Series at what was then Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix against the Arizona Diamondbacks. They didn’t come out on top, but an event, or rather, a moment in time, was captured that would make its way to the limelight 18 years later.
Gerrit Cole was 11 years old at the point of the infamous picture of him leaning over the wall with a sign saying “Yankee fan today, tomorrow, forever” being taken. He was drafted by the team seven years later but turned down the opportunity to play in the organization to go to college at UCLA. Now, at age 32, Cole is having the best start to a season since joining the team as a free agent on a $324 million deal that was record-breaking at the time.
Everyone knew the kind of stuff that Cole could bring to the Yankees rotation. He’s an ace who strikes an exorbitant amount of batters out with a diverse arsenal containing a fastball that could go Mach-5 if he was angry enough, a slider that can make batters swing out of their shoes, a buckling knuckle-curveball and a deceptive changeup. He also started throwing a cutter in 2022, but this season his usage of it has declined significantly.
A former (and excellent) writer here at Pinstripe Alley, Jesse Dorey, wrote a few pieces about Aaron Judge as a religious experience, paying homage to the late David Foster Wallace’s piece about Roger Federer, and it’s hard not to think about Cole in the same context. He is an elite pitcher who does everything down to the minute detail to perfect his craft. Heck, remember on Opening Day in 2022 when he got mad at Billy Crystal and the opening pitch ceremony for causing the game to start four (4) minutes later than scheduled?
Just before Billy Crystal threw out the first pitch, Cole seemed PISSED about the start time getting slightly delayed pic.twitter.com/rDuvkVmWl4— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) April 8, 2022
Yeah, that’s how serious Cole is about this. To some, it might seem completely ridiculous and like an overreaction. But to those who understand the meticulous routines that Cole performs to prepare for games, a four-minute difference can make a significant impact mentally.
For the sake of this article, we can ignore Cole’s numerical production through his first few appearances on the rubber in 2023. Everyone knows that it has been excellent. The process of getting those results is what intrigues me the most.
Throwing a ball as hard as Cole can with the degree of accuracy that he possesses is an art form. There’s no way around that fact. It’s not hurling a ball for the sake of hurling the ball. Every single thing the righty does during his windup is there for a reason: his leg kick, the hesitation at the top of his windup, the length of his right arm as he extends, the amount of extension he’s getting off his push from the mount with every pitch, and his release points (that changed drastically while he was with the Houston Astros).
The main draw for both casual and diehard fans to tune into a Cole outing is to watch one of the league’s best fastballs. Like Judge’s power at the plate, it’s second to (almost) none across Major League Baseball. The kind of spin and ride his heater gets when it flies off his index and middle finger is unprecedented. Manager Aaron Boone attributes the ace’s success this season to his excellent command of the primary pitch in his arsenal.
“I think the fact that [Cole] is pressuring his fastball to so many different places in the zone,” Boone said. “He’s got a presence inside. He’s been really good up in the zone, down, away. It makes you a little less predictable and a little less comfortable hunting a certain quadrant and spot because he is mixing more. But on top of that, you have to be able to command, and that’s what he’s doing great.”
So let’s take a look at this artist’s particular painting method.
Donovan Solano steps up to the plate in the top of the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins with 93 pitches to Cole’s name. The first pitch he sees is a 98-mph fastball right down the middle. The count is 0-1. Next? A high and tight fastball at 96 mph that he manages to foul away. The count is 0-2.
The last pitch out of Cole’s hand is a 97-mph fastball way above the zone, but because of his release point, the deception gets Solano to swing and strike out on three pitches; three fastballs all in and around different quadrants of the strike zone.
How about a more extended at-bat with even more exciting fastballs? Top of the seventh inning, and Cole once again has at least 90 pitches to his name. Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Edmundo Sosa steps up to the plate, awaiting what might come from No. 45’s electric arm. A 96-mph fastball is perfectly placed on the bottom right corner of the strike zone first. Paint. Then, another 96-mph fastball is perfectly placed, but this time it’s on the top right-hand corner of the strike zone, drawing a big swing and miss as the ball rides up above the bat. The count is quickly 0-2.
After Sosa looks at a high fastball, Cole paints another fastball low and on the outside corner, which should have been strike three, but the home-plate umpire didn’t agree. And when I say that thing was about as perfect as you can get, I mean it. Nonetheless, on the now 2-2 count, Cole feeds another fastball high and inside to Sosa, making him lean back in an effort to avoid being clipped. The count is full.
Cole gets Sosa to foul off another fastball low and inside, which was perfectly placed (again). The count remains full.
Cole gets the sign from Jose Trevino through PitchCom for the seventh pitch of the at-bat; he comes set and takes the side step to begin his windup. Bringing his leg up, extending, and following through, Cole heaves a 98-mph fastball—the fastest pitch of the entire at-bat—right down the pipe, which gets a swing and a strikeout.
Watching someone throw the same pitch seven times in a row isn’t usually the most exciting part about the beautiful game of baseball. But watching a pitcher with the talent of Gerrit Cole do it is a different story. The fastball he has been throwing this season is what makes people who watch the sport giddy and is a perfect representation of the results he’s getting.
The meticulous (borderline insane) routines and excellent performances with so many different nuances of the one-time diehard Yankees fan who has been able to live the dream of putting on the pinstripes make the pitcher position (and baseball in general) so intriguing. So, the next time that Cole takes the mound and beyond, sit back and soak it all in because we’re watching excellence.