CLEVELAND — Gerrit Cole was more than up to the challenge.
No surprise there. The Yankees’ ace arguably is the most dominant pitcher in the sport who doesn’t go by the name Jacob deGrom.
But against Cleveland ace Shane Bieber, who brought his own impressive resume into Saturday night’s matchup, it still was going to come down to Cole’s offense somehow finding a way.
After Cole gave up the game’s first run in the fourth, Aaron Hicks and Rougned Odor homered in the fifth, and that was enough to give the Yankees their third straight victory, 2-1, in front of 8,817 at Progressive Field.
"Two special guys going against each other,’’ Aaron Boone said of the matchup of aces. "[Cole] answered the bell again. Really strong outing by our ace."
The Yankees have won four of five to move to 9-11 after a 5-10 start.
Cole (3-1, 1.71 ERA) allowed one run, three hits and no walks, struck out 11 and threw a season-high 111 pitches in seven innings. He retired the final 11 batters he faced.
Cole has struck out 50 in 31 2/3 innings — 14.2 strikeouts per nine innings — and has given up 20 hits and three walks for a 0.73 WHIP.
He entered the game having struck out 39, a franchise record for most strikeouts by any Yankees pitcher in his first four games of a season. He has at least seven strikeouts in each of his last 14 regular-season starts, the longest such stretch by a pitcher in franchise history.
With Chad Green and Aroldis Chapman unavailable because of recent usage, Justin Wilson came on in the eighth, walked Roberto Perez with one out and wild-pitched him to second. After Andres Gimenez popped out, Jonathan Loaisiga was called on for a four-out save, and he retired four in a row to end it.
"That’s a big-time save right there," Boone said after Loaisiga navigated the heart of the order in the ninth to pick up his first career save.
Cole sounded more impressed with Loaisiga’s outing than his own. "Great night for Jon,’’ he said. "He’s new in this game, he wants to be great. Tonight you saw him attack the zone. Pressure situation the eighth and the meat of the order in the ninth. Gotta be really pleased with an outing like that . . . Pretty stoked for Jonny. It was a good night for him. Glad he capped it off."
Bieber, who came in 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in four starts — with 48 strikeouts and 10 walks in 29 1/3 innings — allowed two runs, four hits and three walks. He struck out nine and threw 119 pitches.
With one out in the fourth, Jose Ramirez drove a 1-and-0 curveball to the rightfield wall. Aaron Judge saved a home run, but the ball glanced off his glove and fell back in play for a triple. Eddie Rosario lined a first-pitch slider to left-center for an RBI single and a 1-0 lead.
The lead lasted a matter of minutes. Hicks, off to a rough start at the plate but showing signs of coming out of it of late, started the fifth by driving a 1-and-2 fastball over the wall in right-center for his third homer, tying it at 1-1.
"Felt like it was what we needed,’’ Hicks said. "To tie the game up there was huge. Kind of changed the momentum in our favor."
Said Cole, "It’s huge. It’s huge. There’s no other word to describe it, and then the cherry on top with Odor. It was imperative to come out and attack the zone the next inning [after getting the lead]."
Bieber struck out two straight to run his total to eight but fell behind Odor 3-and-0 before he drove a 3-and-1 changeup deep to right-center for his third homer and second in as many nights.
What has Odor brought since his recent acquisition? "Just really good energy,’’ Cole said. "Always hear him in my outings communicating on the field. He’s really in tune with the baserunners, and in the dugout he’s always trying to motivate people, and he’s playing some really good defense. And he’s got I think like three game-winning hits at this point. He’s just been playing really well."
The team has been playing better, too. Said Boone, "There’s definitely a little more buzz in the dugout now that the offense is starting to click a little bit."