Pitching on three days rest in a winner-take-all Game 5, Gerrit Cole gave the Yankees everything he could.
Ultimately, though, it wasn’t enough.
The ace came out and allowed just one hit – an Austin Meadows solo home run in the fifth inning – as he punched out nine Rays in his 5.1 innings.
Aroldis Chapman later gave up the game-winning home run to Mike Brosseau in the eighth inning, and the Yankees’ season came to an end in the decisive Game 5 with a 2-1 loss, but Cole showed exactly why he was the recipient of a $324 million contract last winter.
“I'm so proud of his effort. That was just a championship, special player effort,” Aaron Boone said of Cole afterwards. “To get in the trouble that he did in the first inning and rack up the pitches, and then just make some huge pitches to get out of it, and... settle in, obviously on three days rest, I definitely felt like he was getting to the end of the line in the fifth... he showed his metal again and who he is by the effort he put out tonight."
The outing nearly turned out very different for Cole, after he loaded the bases in the first inning and fell behind Joey Wendle 3-0. But he came back to strike Wendle out looking on a fastball, and then cruised through the next couple innings.
In the fourth though, the Rays really started to make Cole work, pushing his pitch count higher and higher. And after nearly giving up a Randy Arozarena home run to start the sixth (that was brought back by Brett Gardner), Cole’s night was over.
“You want to keep the game tied, so you’re going to pick around the zone a little bit to a certain extent (in the first inning), Cole explained. “Try to find your outs, try to find times to be aggressive in the zone, try to find times not to mess around in the zone. So not as efficient as we wanted to be in the first.
“Some guys just put together some good at-bats. We got to the sixth. Of course, we wanted to get deeper. Leaving with the game tied doesn’t’ feel as good as leaving with the lead. Obviously, the mistake pitch there was unfortunate, but I felt good about holding them down. I mean, gosh, how many times did I pitch against these guys this year? It’s like six or seven. It’s just like on a tape recorder with these guys. It’s tough as s—t. .. It’s a good fight. It sucks losing.”
Cole said the Yankees clubhouse was a very quiet one in the moments following the loss, as the team that had their sights zeroed in on a championship came up short.
“It’s a big disappointment. Not the way we drew it up,” said Cole. “Really hard-fought series. That sometimes can make it harder to swallow too.”
So now Cole’s first season in pinstripes is officially over. He pitched to a 2.84 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 73.0 innings during the regular season, and then went 2-1 with a 2.95 ERA in the postseason.
The 2020 season was a unique one in so many ways, including for Cole, who tried to make his mark with his new team under some very different circumstances.
“I think the first season, everybody’s going to think about coronavirus right? Like, it’s just on the forefront of all our minds,” Cole said. “In terms of our performance, we continued to get better throughout the year. I think there’s room for improvement. We’re always trying to evaluate, always trying to get better.
"It’s hard for me to say I’m not pleased with how we went about it. There were a lot of challenges (personally), dealing with a newborn, being across the country. I haven’t seen my family. I mean it was really hard at times. I just did the best I could, so I will try to get better, but it’s all out there.”