Legend has it, Gerrit Cole is still out in the home bullpen at Minute Maid Park, waiting for manager A.J. Hinch to pick up the dugout phone and summon him to keep the Houston Astros' slim lead over the Nationals in Game 7 of the World Series intact.
OK, he may not be in Texas anymore, but Cole has waited eight months to get the ball against Washington. After multiple reports confirmed that the Nationals would be taking on Cole's newest employer, the New York Yankees, to open the 2020 season, he'll finally have his chance.
Cole made two starts against the Nationals in the World Series, taking the loss in Game 1 by allowing five runs before dominating across seven innings in Game 5. However, it was Hinch's decision to leave Cole hanging in Game 7 that will forever live in playoff infamy.
Rather than turn to the runner-up for the AL Cy Young award, Hinch brought in veteran reliever Will Harris to protect a one-run lead in the seventh. That set the stage for Howie Kendrick to one-up himself for the best moment in Nationals history by lining a go-ahead home run off the foul pole in right field. Washington never gave that lead back up to seal its first World Series title in franchise history.
After spring training was put on hold by the coronavirus, the Nationals got together on Zoom to re-watch Game 7 with the feed broadcasting on Facebook. Perhaps the most popular phrase from the players throughout the night? "Did they bring Cole in yet?"
"He warmed up in the fifth inning?" first baseman Zimmerman asked when the cameras showed Cole getting ready in the bullpen.
"He got a try out for the Yankees," left fielder Juan Soto replied.
"He passed his tryout, I'll tell you that much," Zimmerman said.
Even though he fell short of winning the World Series, it wasn't that bad of a fall season for Cole. The right-hander inked a nine-year, $324 million with the Yankees in free agency to become the highest-paid pitcher in MLB history. While the Astros have dealt with a sign-stealing scandal that marred their 2017 championship title, Cole is set to join a Yankees team that won 103 games last season.
The Nationals and Yankees weren't supposed to play each other in 2020, but the truncated season of 60 games forced teams to play only opponents either in their division or the corresponding geographic division from the opposite league. With Cole and the Nationals now pitted against each other, MLB's scheduling staff couldn't resist making the matchup a marquee event to start the year.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone won't make the mistake Hinch did. Cole will be on the mound against the Nationals in D.C. for Opening Day-coronavirus permitting-with Washington looking to prove its 2019 title was no fluke.
Someone should go check the bullpen in Houston, just in case.
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