Yankees’ must-watch Gerrit Cole steams over exit: A play-by-play

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Gerrit Cole looking serious after being pulled from Rays game
Gerrit Cole looking serious after being pulled from Rays game

Gerrit Cole had just frozen Mike Zunino with a fastball that came in at 97.7 miles per hour, and with wicked movement. It was his 109th pitch of the night, and with two outs in the seventh he looked as strong as ever.

Cole then turned to his left, saw Aaron Boone walking toward him, and spat a single expletive into the summer night: “F—k!”

Much later, after the Yankees had lost a thriller to Tampa Bay, 4-2, and saw their lead in the American League East sink to just half a game, Cole was only marginally calmer.

Sitting at a podium at Yankee Stadium for his Zoom teleconference with reporters, the ace made clear that he was not at peace with Boone’s decision. It all added up to another moment of intrigue – probably the most compelling yet – from a player who has been must-watch since he arrived, both in his intense performances and insight-rich news conferences.

After Wednesday’s game, the YES Network’s Meredith Marakovits took the first shot. She noted that Cole seemed displeased after Boone removed him.

“Yeah,” Cole said, appearing to choose his words carefully. “I was in a good position to finish it. So.”

Had Boone given Cole the chance to plead his case, Marakovits asked?

“He made the move before he even got out there, so it didn’t really matter what I said to him on the mound,” Cole said. “Whatever I said to him in my glove, we’ll just leave it at that.”

James Wagner of the Times was next. He asked Cole if it was hard to control his emotions after leaving the game (Cole was seen stalking around the dugout, huffing and scowling, until Zack Britton finished the job).

“It’s not the easiest thing, so, uh … ” And that was the end of that answer.

Lucky me, I was next. I asked why Cole was so convinced that he should have remained in the game to face Austin Meadows. Was it because he had just thrown an excellent pitch to Zunino? Was he feeling strong? Did he like the matchup against Meadows?

Cole paused for a few seconds.

“Uh … I think you made a few good points,” he said. “I think … yeah, I mean I’m just going to keep it at less is more right now. I wanted to finish the game. I think the body of work over the course of the day, over the course of the last start, speaks for itself.”

He finished his answer with a firm, “Thanks,” which might not have actually meant “Thanks.”

MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, brave and resolute, had one more on the topic.

“You were at 99 pitches through six innings,” Hoch said. “Did you have to battle to stay in the game even after six?”

“Oh my,” Cole said quietly. Then he continued in his usual volume: “The question of was I good enough to go back out for the seventh and the answer was yes."

“So,” Hoch said, “You would have liked the opportunity to state your case again obviously?”

“Uh, yeah.”

If Cole suspected that the New York media was trying to bait him into ripping the manager, he should know that that we truly weren’t. We were simply interested in learning why he felt the way that he did. And though I can’t speak for anyone else, I know I was grateful for the continued entertainment, both in the way he wrestled with his feelings and the way he analyzed his performance.

Five innings before cursing at his manager’s decision on Wednesday, Cole allowed a home run on a change-up to Ji-Man Choi. Soon after – appearing angry at this turn of events – he began pushing his fastball from 94ish to 97-98, and grunting like Monica Seles while delivering each one.

Zunino added a solo homer in the third, this one off a fastball. This fit a larger pattern; five of the seven homers Cole has allowed this year have come on heaters. After this game, Cole offered a detailed explanation when asked if the homers were a byproduct of challenging hitters and throwing strikes.

“That’s kind of the way the game is trending,” he said. “I certainly haven’t been happy with the home runs that have come at the end of the game, the two multi-home run (games) -- I think in Baltimore and then trying to finish up the outing in Tampa.

“Outside of that, I’m going to try to throw strikes. I’m going to try to challenge guys. I do think we have the ‘solo homer doesn’t beat us’ mentality. It’s going to happen. You just don’t see many guys staying short and going the other way with challenge fastballs anymore and taking their hits. It’s just the way the league has gone.”

Soon after, Boone was in the Zoom room, calmly explaining his rationale. “Just felt like he worked pretty hard to finish off the sixth and then into the seventh there, it just felt like the Britton-Meadows matchup with our bullpen lined up -- I just felt like that was the way to go,” the manager said.

If Boone was rattled by Cole’s reaction, he didn’t let on. It was an intense night, and he has an intense ace. In the heat of summer baseball – in a season we weren’t even sure would happen, for that matter -- could we ask for anything more?