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Gerrit Cole pitches nine brilliant innings as Yankees blank Astros

Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole reacts after striking

Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole reacts after striking out the Astros' Yordan Alvarez to end the game on Saturday in Houston. Credit: AP/Eric Christian Smith

HOUSTON — Two days earlier, Gerrit Cole wasn’t sure he would even be able to make the start.

The righthander, who has experienced his share of issues since news broke in early June that Major League Baseball intended to crack down on the use of illegal sticky substances by pitchers, had gone through a "miserable" few days in Seattle earlier in the week, to use his word.

Aaron Boone said the ace was "under the weather" and even required being hooked up to an IV.

"Honestly, I came into today thinking it was going to be a short outing," Boone said with a smile late Saturday night.

The manager had reason to grin.

Cole, knowing the Yankees' bullpen was very short, allowed three hits, struck out 12 and threw a career-high 129 pitches in a 1-0 victory over the Astros in front of 41,259 at Minute Maid Park.

"That took guts, that took heart. That’s why he’s our ace," said Aaron Judge, whose 21st homer, a 419-foot shot off Zack Greinke in the third, accounted for the game’s only run. "He brought the intensity. We felt him all night."

After Boone opted to stay with Cole in the ninth against his old team rather than bring in struggling closer Aroldis Chapman, Jose Altuve singled on Cole's first pitch of the inning. Michael Brantley flied to center on a 3-and-2 pitch, the 10th pitch of the at-bat. Cole then struck out Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez on six pitches to end it.

Gurriel struck out on a low, outside 0-and-2 slider, unable to check his swing. After a mound visit from Boone — a visit in which the pitcher quite animatedly did most of the talking — Colestruck out Alvarez on a 99-mph 0-and-2 fastball to end it.

"I said the ‘F’ word a lot, and I kind of just blacked out," Cole said. "I don't really remember what I told him, to be honest."

It was the second straight three-hit shutout by the Yankees (46-42), who have won five of their last six games. Regardless of Sunday’s result, they will have won two straight series going into the All-Star break.

Cole’s performance produced plenty of admiration from the other dugout, including from someone who has been in the game more than 50 years.

"He reached back at the end," Astros manager Dusty Baker, 72, told Houston reporters. "That was similar to Tom Seaver. In the late innings, he would kind of ditch the rest of his pitches and rely on his fastball, especially the high fastball."

Cole came in 8-4 with a 2.91 ERA but was 2-2 with a 5.24 ERA in his previous six starts, his spin rate noticeably down in that stretch.

"There’s guys around the league that succeed with low spin numbers and stuff, and with Gerrit’s mentality and how he studies hitters and how prepared he is when he goes out to pitch, I mean, seriously, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s one of the best pitchers in the game," said Sunday’s starter, Jameson Taillon, a former teammate of Cole’s with the Pirates. "I think he just needs to go out there and have a game where he kind of feels that, too."

The ninth-inning drama overshadowed a troll job by Judge of Altuve.

After launching his moonshot homer to left, as Judge approached third, he ever-so-slightly cinched the top of his jersey together, a la Altuve as he arrived at home plate after hitting the walk-off homer off Chapman at Minute Maid Park that sent the Astros (including Cole) to the 2019 World Series.

(It has been speculated/rumored that Altuve had a buzzer of some kind under his shirt and knew which pitch was coming that night, the reason he didn’t want his shirt to be ripped off during the celebration at home plate.)

Altuve, fairly or not, has been the face of the illegal sign-stealing scheme the Astros engaged in during the 2017-18 seasons. Judge, the runaway AL Rookie of the Year in 2017, finished second to Altuve in that year's MVP voting.

Judge, among the most outspoken of the Yankees in spring training 2020 while discussing MLB’s punishment of the Astros, which most people inside the game found insufficient, said they should have been stripped of their title. Judge also acknowledged having deleted a congratulatory tweet he sent out in 2017 after Altuve won the MVP.

"Whenever they keep the roof closed here, it’s pretty chilly, so I was just letting my team know to button up a little bit," Judge said, not even trying to hide his smile.

"Everyone’s welcome," he said a few seconds later with a slight laugh, "to their own opinion."

After Aaron Boone opted to stay with

ing.

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