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Yankees 4, Phillies 2: Cole Train go “choo-choo”

The Yankees’ ace dazzled again in a solid series-clincher over the reigning NL champs.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Hey fellas, I think this Gerrit Cole guy might be pretty good.

All jokes aside, it’s only been two starts, but one can’t help but start to wonder whether this might be the year we get a full season of the truly world-beating, unquestionably-the-best-pitcher-on-the-planet Cole that most hoped for when he signed his record-breaking deal in 2020. Cole has almost certainly been worth the deal, but he also hasn’t spent as much time as we’d like being the utter buzzsaw that we saw mow through the American League for most of 2018-19.

As good as Cole has been through most of his Yankees tenure, his first two starts of this season have felt different. For the first time as a Yankee, he’s worked through six full innings twice to start a year. For the first time as a Yankee, he’s allowed no more than a single run in either of those first two starts. The velocity and movement on his pitches are right in line with where they’ve been in previous seasons. Perhaps this is the year that all of the little things come together again — no five-walk meltdowns in Detroit, no midseason league shenanigans with sticky stuff, no mysterious home run issues — to give Cole another run at hitting the ceiling he reached in his Astros heyday.

Cole’s M.O. for getting through the Phillies’ difficult lineup was more or less the same as getting through San Francisco’s on Opening Day: “Let the fastball rip.”

Most pitchers these days are lessening their fastball usage in favor of breaking balls and offspeed, but for the second straight start, Cole threw his elite four-seamer over 60 percent of the time, a sharp step up from 2022. For the second start in a row, hitters couldn’t do much with it. The four-seamer generated 10 swinging strikes and a 31-percent CSW rate, very solid for such heavy usage.

Philadelphia’s sole damage against Cole came when the righty finally ran out of gas in the seventh inning. He walked Nick Castellanos with one out and watched him ultimately come around to score on a sacrifice fly as Jonathan Loáisiga struggled with command.

It didn’t much matter, though. The Yankees had already held the lead since the very first inning after Aaron Judge singled, stole second, and scored on a Gleyber Torres hit during the home side’s first time up on the day.

On the whole, Aaron Nola rebounded nicely from a brutal Opening Day shellacking at the hands of the Rangers, but one thing the Phillies ace just couldn’t quite do today was beat Gleyber Torres. The second basemen was also responsible for the second Yankee run of the afternoon, finding paydirt on a single up the middle to plate DJ LeMahieu after the latter opened the sixth inning with a double.

Nola lasted into the seventh inning but only received one batter for his troubles, leaving the game after a lead-off walk, the first of the season for Oswaldo Cabrera. Two batters later, Jose Trevino stuck it permanently on him with a two-run homer against Gregory Soto that looked like it might have involved a baseball from 2019, just based on the swing Trevino took:

Nola took the loss but did pick himself up a quality start with those three runs allowed over six innings, striking out five. The Phillies tacked on one more run on Kyle Schwarber’s second bomb of the season, the first earned run of the year surrendered by Loáisiga (and his first dinger allowed since last May).

That’s as interesting as it got, though. Closer Clay Holmes looked to be in first-half 2022 form in picking up his first save of the new campaign, striking out all three of the hitters he faced to secure a 4-2 record and second consecutive series win to start 2023.

Tomorrow’s game having already been postponed, the Yankees will be back in action against the Baltimore Orioles at 3:05pm ET at Camden Yards on Friday, though perhaps sans Josh Donaldson, as the third baseman was pulled today with hamstring tightness. Friday’s starters have yet to be listed (though Clarke Schmidt is in line for it), but we’ll be right there with ya.

Box Score