TORONTO — Gerrit Cole left nothing to chance.
Already a runaway favorite to capture the American League Cy Young Award, which would be the first of his career, Cole, backed by Aaron Judge's pair of two-run homers, threw a two-hitter Wednesday night in the Yankees' 6-0 victory over the Blue Jays in front of 31,923 at Rogers Centre.
“That’s just a clinic in pitching,” Aaron Boone said. “I think it embodied his season right there. Just fun to watch him go do that and absolutely put an exclamation point on the Cy Young Award with that performance.”
Cole (15-4, 2.63) threw 105 pitches in his second complete game of a brilliant season.
“That,” Judge said, “was the cherry on top to an incredible season out of him.”
Cole had four bad starts this year in which he allowed 20 earned runs in 21 innings. In his other 29 starts, he had a 1.90 ERA.
He allowed two or fewer runs — runs, not earned runs — in 26 of 33 starts. He did not get a decision in 11 of those 26 games despite recording a 1.63 ERA in the 11.
In his final seven starts, he was 5-0 with a 1.29 ERA.
Judge, who has a remarkable 37 homers in 103 games, said before the game, “The minute I saw him [Cole] come in the clubhouse, I knew it was going to be a good night. He’s always got a look in his eye that he’s ready to go, but today he had a little chip on his shoulder. He wanted to take care of business. It was just a look he had.”
Cole, who struck out five and did not walk a batter, retired 17 straight after Brandon Belt’s leadoff double in the second. Belt’s two-out single in the seventh accounted for Toronto’s other hit.
With Cole at 93 pitches through eight innings, there was no one in the Yankees' dugout — led by Boone and pitching coach Matt Blake — remotely interested in seeing anyone but the ace finish the game.
“Matt asked me if I was good going into the ninth, so I asked him if he thought I was good and he said, ‘I think you’re pretty good,’ ” Cole said with a smile. “I said, ‘Well, I’ve got 180 some-odd days off before the next start [Opening Day 2024], so can you let me go tonight? He was like, ‘Yeah.’ ”
Not that there really was any question. Not on this night. Not the way Cole was pitching against the Blue Jays (87-71), who came into the day in second place in a tight race for the three AL wild-card spots. Instead, the Yankees (81-77), who were eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday, shut them out on back-to-back nights.
Cole received all the runs he needed in the fourth inning when Judge hit a two-run homer to rightfield off Jose Berrios. Judge added No. 37 in the seventh, a 424-foot two-run blast to left-center off Trevor Richards that made it 6-0. Giancarlo Stanton also had a two-run single.
But the night belonged to Cole, who started the season with six scoreless innings in an Opening Day victory over the Giants at the Stadium and couldn’t have authored a more emphatic conclusion to his year.
“He’s the best pitcher in the game,” Judge said. “This is Gerrit Cole’s era, that’s for sure. He’s the benchmark for what an ace is supposed to like, on and off the field.”
His fellow pitchers, many of whom Cole has mentored in some way — whether it be tips about sequencing, pitch selection or game preparation — say his level of attention to detail is unlike anyone else’s.
“The thing I respect about him the most,” Nestor Cortes said last weekend, “is he’s the highest-paid pitcher and still goes about it as if he’s working for a contract. He wants to win. All the time.”
Cole has publicly downplayed Cy Young Award talk these last two months and didn’t expound greatly on it late Wednesday night. He did, however, mention his teammates in discussing the award.
“I’m just very grateful for my teammates because in the 33 games I was able to play this year, they showed up every single time,” Cole said. “And I think lately they kind of rallied around that fact [being the favorite for the Cy Young]. And maybe in a certain sense, after some of our collective hopes [as a team] fell by the wayside, it motivated them to continue to play hard, and I’m just so grateful for that.”
Notes & quotes: It's small solace, but the Yankees will not finish last in the AL East. Their 19th win in the last 28 games gave them an 81-77 record, and the Red Sox fell to 76-82 with a 5-0 loss to the Rays.