The remarkable thing is that Gerrit Cole was merely part of the chorus Tuesday night. The Yankees greeted the American League playoffs with a haymaker that not only flattened the Cleveland Indians, 12-3, but certainly must have been heard in other notable precincts such as St. Petersburg, Fla., and Houston. Maybe even Los Angeles.
Everyone was part of the fun. Two batters in the Yankees led 2-0 because Aaron Judge made a baseball disappear into the Cleveland night. Brett Gardner turned the clock back five years or so. Shane Bieber, the shoo-in Cy Young winner, looked like a frightened deer wandering onto the Cross Bronx Expressway. Even with no fans inside Progressive Field you could hear a million Ohioans get a head start on their “wait-til-next-year” laments.
And, by the by, Gerrit Cole threw seven innings and allowed two runs and six hits, he struck out 13 batters and walked none, and in the entire history of postseason baseball only one pitcher has ever done that 13/0 parlay: Tom Seaver, Game 1 of the 1973 NLCS, Mets against the Reds.
(SPOILER ALERT: Seaver and the Mets lost that game, 2-1.)
Cole wasn’t going to lose this. The Yankees weren’t going to let him, but even if they hadn’t run up the score Cole was everything he was ever supposed to be: a give-me-the-ball monster, a Game 1 brute. Even after the Indians started to get better swings against him, cut a 3-0 deficit to 3-1 and a 5-1 hole to 5-2, there was never a moment Cole didn’t appear in control.
“To have Gerrit throw the ball the way he did,” manager Aaron Boone marveled, “that was so big.”
And he was big, bigger-than-life big, right from the jump, blowing away Francisco Lindor and Cesar Hernandez, then coaxing a weak pop-up from the Indians’ best hitter, Jose Ramirez. As that ball soared high over the infield Cole didn’t even wait for it to start its descent, stalking off the field immediately. He knows the terrain. He knew he was locked in.
“I thought he looked really sharp,” Boone said. “He had all four pitches mixed in and he leaned on all of them.”
He had more than that, actually. Cole was able to spend part of the day with his wife, Amy, and their 3-month-old son Caden — at least in between naps — and the Coles were part of a throaty Yankees family contingent inside Progressive.
Young Caden won’t recall the night other than through the pictures and videos his mother preserved in her cell phone, but it meant everything to his father.
“Jeez,” Cole said, “as a family, that’s the first time we got to go to the ballpark as a family and that’s something I’ll always remember.”
“I never thought his first game would be in Cleveland,” he said but, then, what about 2020 has come anywhere close to following a script?
Cole’s performance, actually. This, of course, is why the Yankees backed up the Brinks and anointed him their ace. Every part of that was pointing toward multiple Game 1s over the next few years, starting with this one. Bieber may have out-pitched him across the 60-game regular season.
But when the lights clicked on at Progressive Field, when the plug went into the wall kick-starting these 2020 playoffs, it was Cole who played the part of stopper. Bieber will have plenty of tomorrows to look forward to but the Yankees, as always, are about right now. Cole fits them. They fit him. Tuesday night, it looked like a happier marriage than Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson.
“We needed to set a tone for the series,” Cole said. “I’m obviously very thankful and humbled to take the ball and be in this position, to be able to deliver felt good, my son being here felt pretty good too. It was definitely a special night. Especially in this year, there’s a lot more baseball games to win. We’ll celebrate the good stuff and get after it [Wednesday].”
Assuming all goes well from here and that this offensive onslaught wasn’t a “Come On Eileen”-style one-hit wonder, there will be other Game 1s ahead for Cole, other nights when Cole will be asked to take the ball. And on those nights it’ll be the Yankees who will be thankful for that.