It’s been an unprecedented year in baseball, but October is here and the Yankees have it exactly the way they drew it up in the offseason. Game 1 of the ALDS against the Rays on Monday and their unquestioned ace, Gerrit Cole, set to take the ball.
But as good as Cole has been, with 94 strikeouts in 73 innings (and another 13 punchouts in his Wild Card start against the Indians), Tampa Bay has had his number. The Rays accounted for five of the 14 home runs the right-hander allowed this season. In three starts against the AL’s best team this season, Cole made it into the sixth inning just once.
“They’re a really good ball club all around who takes care of the baseball on defense and plays good offense,” Cole said, “They’ve got many different styles of how they can attack you on offense.”
Ji-Man Choi got to Cole for two homers in the regular season, but spoke about something he often does, his own execution of pitches.
“I don't want to take credit away from him, but probably too many bad pitches,” Cole said of his at-bats against Choi this year. “That's just my personal take on it, because I can't control what kind of swing he puts on the ball. He's obviously put some good swings on some good pitches, and some bad pitches, but as far as what I can control, I need to make better pitches.”
They say familiarity breeds contempt. And that’s certainly been the case this season—and the previous two—as tensions have boiled over between the Rays and Yankees on multiple occasions.
But all those games can also mean more opportunity for hitters to get a look at opposing pitchers. With the success the Rays have had on Cole this year, it’s certainly something to point at. But Cole says that can go both ways.
“Familiarity on either side can play for some sort of an advantage,” Cole said. “So whoever is able to combat that the most or use it to their advantage might have a slight edge. When it all comes down to it, it comes down to execution. They have to execute swings and I have to execute pitches. So that's where most of my focus will be.”
The last time Cole faced the Rays in the playoffs was in last year’s ALDS, when he was a member of the Astros. He won both of his starts in that series as Houston advanced, but Cole famously didn’t pitch in the team’s Game 7 loss to the Nationals in the World Series. There’s no doubt it’s still on his mind as he gets ready for what he hopes is a deep run in 2020.
“I have my own particular motivations for my journey up to this point and everybody on this club has their own story that's gotten them to this point,” Cole said. “At the end, everybody's got to be as motivated as they can be to take this trophy down. So anything that you can add that adds fuel to that fire. Unfortunately, it usually comes in the form of some sort of pain. So it's not easy to swallow at the time, but hopefully it can be useful down the line.”