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Gary Sanchez turns tide with pinch-hit home run, lifting Yanks over Jays

Yankees' Gary Sanchez celebrates his two-run home run

Yankees' Gary Sanchez celebrates his two-run home run during the seventh inning of the team's baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Buffalo. Credit: AP/Jeffrey T. Barnes

BUFFALO — Gary Sanchez already had been making a push to take over as Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher.

He just might have given it one final shove Wednesday night.

The backstop, the most polarizing player on the Yankees roster among the fan base for several years running and who already in recent weeks had all but reclaimed the starter’s job from Kyle Higashioka, hit a game-turning pinch-hit homer to lead the Yankees to a white-knuckle 3-2 victory over the Blue Jays in front of 7,271 at Sahlen Field that made it sound very much like a home game for the visitors.

"Just happy for him because he’s worked so hard," said Aaron Boone, praising Sanchez, who hit the blast off Ross Stripling, but at the same time very much indicating Higashioka would continue as Cole’s catcher. "Just kept his nose down. Obviously lost some playing time about a month ago and has kept working and has been a great teammate."

Aroldis Chapman walked a tightrope in the ninth, allowing a leadoff single to Vlad Guerrero Jr. to start the ninth and a double to Teoscar Hernandez. But Chapman struck out Randal Grichuk, then fielded Santiago Espinal’s comebacker and threw home as Guerrero broke for the plate. Sanchez rifled a throw to third where Gio Urshela tagged him out. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. lined to center to end it, moving Chapman to 14 of 16 in saves.

The story of this night was Sanchez’s homer that turned a 2-1 deficit for the Yankees (35-32) into a 3-2 lead over the Blue Jays (33-33). The story, that is, until Cole spoke afterward.

The ace, who in many ways has become the face of the "sticky substance" issue that has taken over the sport — MLB is expected to begin enforcing Monday what amounts to a zero-tolerance policy of substances of any kind being applied to the ball — discussed the difficulty he had gripping the ball on a chilly night Wednesday.

"I was messing with it all night," Cole said of his grip after allowing two runs — coming on solo homers by Marcus Semien and Cavan Biggio — and four hits over eight innings in which he struck out four and walked one. "I mean, it’s hard. It’s so hard to grip the ball."

Cole (8-3, 2.31), on the Players’ Association executive committee, then continued his comments that were clearly intended for Commissioner Rob Manfred, who happened to be in the building before the game.

"For Pete’s sake, it’s part of the reason why almost every player on the field has something, regardless of if they’re a pitcher or not, to help them control the ball," Cole said. "I don’t have a solution but, again, we are aligned in a lot areas with the Commissioner’s office on this. Please just talk to us. Please just work with us. I know you have the hammer here, but we’ve been living in a gray area for so long, I would just hate to see players get hurt, I would hate to see ball’s start flying at people’s heads. I had a really tough time gripping the baseball tonight, especially early when it was windy. I don’t really care to be inflammatory here so I’m just going to leave it at that."

Cole, whose RPMs (revolutions per minute) were down a second straight start since news broke of MLB’s intended enforcement of a rule long on the books but never really enforced, said "there’s going to be an adaptation across the league" from pitchers. But he also, in answering another question, took issue with the suggestion he can’t be the same kind of pitcher he had been, presumably when using whatever it was he was using.

"Spin rate’s not everything," Cole said. "You can still pitch well if you don’t have a high spin rate."

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