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Yankees 4, Rangers 2: Gerrit Cole steps up as Aaron Judge goes down

The Yankees needed excellent pitching on a night when their MVP exited early, and that’s exactly what they got.

New York Yankees v Texas Rangers Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Well, the story tonight revolves around the Yankees’ two best players. One of them, Gerrit Cole, was great again, propelling the Yankees to their second straight win. The other, Aaron Judge, exited early and has an entire organization holding its breath.

A day after awkwardly sliding into third base against the Twins, Judge was pulled in the fourth inning. As Ryan Ruocco noted on the broadcast, Judge appeared to favor his wrist after one his second and last at-bat of the game. However, it was reported later that Judge was removed with “right hip discomfort”.

If Judge misses time, then it will be imperative on the few sluggers remaining in the lineup to do their job, and for Yankee pitching to stand on its collective head. They got enough of that right tonight, taking one-time Yankees starter Andrew Heaney to task early on and holding on for the win.

Heaney’s arsenal revolves around a high-spinning four-seamer and a potent breaking ball, and when he can locate those pitches properly, he can dominate at times. Indeed, he’d allowed just two earned runs in 16 innings across his previous three starts and if you look at his heatmaps, you can see how, keeping his fastball up, and slider at the knees:

The left-hander could not locate nearly as well at the outset of this one. After a smooth first, the Yankees went to work as Heaney went to leaving pitches out over the plate. Starting the party was DJ LeMahieu, who reached out and poked a fastball on the outside corner down for a solo shot:

Gleyber Torres followed with a very different kind of solo homer, absolutely smoking a rising line drive 443 feet to dead center:

It really can be pretty simple with Heaney. When elevated correctly, he can get opposing hitters to swing under and through his fastball. When Heaney leaves his heater middle-middle, as he did for much of the second frame, it’s simply a highly-appealing offering coming in at an enticing 91-92 mph, and with right-handed hitters in particular getting a great look at the pitch coming out of his hand and to the plate.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Jose Trevino, and Anthony Volpe all got very good swings on Heaney fastballs in the inning, and it added up to another run and a 3-0 lead. Oswald Peraza was hit by a pitch after the Torres dinger, and after an IKF lineout, Trevino singled, Aaron Hicks worked a walk, and Volpe singled home Peraza. The Yankees could have added even more, but Judge struck out with the bases loaded, and Anthony Rizzo was called out on strikes on an appalling 3-2 call:

Spotted the lead, Cole was in command, as he’s been all year. He breezed through the first five innings, with the Rangers hardly troubling him at all. Over those five frames, he allowed just three hits and walked none.

It was a slightly different version of Cole than we’d typically seen this season. While he entered the game throwing a curve, slider, or changeup on nearly half of his pitches, it was all fastball tonight, with Cole opting to try to just bull his way through the Texas lineup. He used the four-seamer on over 70 percent of his pitches, and it worked almost perfectly up until the sixth.

Facing the lineup a third time, the Rangers finally started to get a piece, with Marcus Semien and Robbie Grossman grounding seeing-eye singles to open the bottom of the sixth. A walk to Nate Lowe loaded the bases with none out. Cole came this close to escaping the jam, fanning Adolis García, and inducing a tailor-made double-play groundball to first from Jonah Heim. LeMahieu went to second for the first out, but Cole couldn’t quite handle the throw to first as he scrambled to cover:

An infield single scored another run, and the lead was 3-2 after six. Cole came out for the seventh and retired the first two before Aaron Boone came and got him. His line settled at 6.2 innings, six hits, two runs, and eight strikeouts against one walk, technically one of his weaker outings of 2023, but still excellent.

Heaney settled in after the awful second inning, and though the Yankees got good wood on the ball with some consistency, couldn’t string together rally. The average ball off Yankee bats against Heaney came out at over 93 mph, but the lefty was effective enough to survive through six innings.

What looked like it could be a laugher ended up a taut affair. The Yankees missed a chance to expand their lead in the seventh, with Oswaldo Cabrera smoking one 400 feet to center with two on and two down, but Leody Taveras making a casually excellent play to run it down. It was up to Michael King, called on in relief of Cole, to keep the Rangers where they were. He did just that, getting us to the ninth with the score still 3-2, where Trevino added some insurance in the form of a solo shot, his second of the year:

King remained in for the ninth, with Boone asking his versatile relief man for a seven-out save. The right-hander was game, allowing just one walk over his 2.1 innings, shutting down Texas and earning his first save of the season. It was gutsy work from Cole and King tonight, giving the bullpen a breather and getting the Yankees a win on a night where a loss would’ve added insult to injury.

Now, we all wait anxiously to hear more word on Judge. For at least a night, the Yankees were able to win without the AL MVP. Having the best pitcher in the world on the mound certainly helps mitigate the loss of last year’s best player. We’ll know more tomorrow, when the Yankees will go up against two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom with Clarke Schmidt on the mound. See you then.

Box Score