After shutting down the Rays Aug. 25 in St. Petersburg in what was his 11th victory of the season, Gerrit Cole said winning the AL Cy Young wasn’t at the forefront of his mind.
“I don’t want to get distracted,” he said that night. “It’s not something I’ve ever thought about through my whole career, so I’m just sticking with what I’ve done in the past.”
The Yankees ace can certainly start thinking about it now.
Cole all but clinched the award — which would be the first on an already distinguished career resume — Thursday night, retiring the first 16 batters he faced in a 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays at the Stadium.
“It’s hard to really put anyone else up against him at this point,” Aaron Boone said afterward of the Cy Young race.
Cole allowed one run and two hits over eight innings in which he struck out nine and did not walk a batter, improving to 14-4 with an AL-low 2.75 ERA. He was perfect until Alejandro Kirk lasered a double to right-center with one out in the sixth.
Cole paused and smiled Thursday night when reminded of his Aug. 25 comments.
“It’s the same answer,” he said. “All I know how to do is just get ready for the next one.”
But told of Boone’s postgame comment regarding the Cy Young, Cole said: “That’s humbling. That means a lot. Just putting my best foot forward and trying to give us a chance to win every single time.”
Matt Chapman doubled to lead off the eighth and scored later in the inning on a wild pitch for the Blue Jays’ lone run off Cole. Clay Holmes allowed two runs, one unearned, in the ninth for the 5-3 final.
When Cole completed the eighth inning, it marked the second straight season — and sixth time in his career — in which Cole reached 200 innings. Cole doffed his cap to the cheering crowd when the accomplishment was recognized on the scoreboard as he walked off the mound.
“That was special for me,” Cole said of the ovation. “I love pitching at home in front of our fans. We have a lot of fans on the road, too, but there’s just something about having good nights in the Bronx. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Of the 200-inning plateau, Cole said: “It’s a nice round number that a lot of pitchers shoot for. It’s a testament to everybody’s preparation behind the scenes and, obviously, my teammates on the field making plays for me and giving me the opportunity to get deep. It’s a number we should all be proud of I think.”
The 33-year-old righthander, who would become the Yankees’ sixth Cy Young Award winner — and first since Roger Clemens in 2001 — made it 25 of 32 starts in which he allowed two runs or fewer.
Thursday night he received all the runs he would need in the first inning on Jake Bauers’ three-run homer off Jose Berrios, who has never pitched particularly well at the Stadium, most notably getting rocked in the AL Wild Card game in 2017 while with the Twins. Thursday night Berrios (11-11, 3.58) allowed four runs and seven hits over 5 2⁄3 innings.
“I don’t know how much help he really needed to be honest with you,” Bauers said of providing an early cushion for Cole. “But anytime you can jump out to an early lead, it kind of sets the tone a little bit.”
Bauers, who has spent time in his career with pitching-rich clubs like Cleveland and Tampa Bay, said Cole is even a notch above what he saw in those organizations.
“He’s almost so good that can take it for granted,” Bauers said. “It’s pretty impressive the way he goes out there every five days and immediately gives you a chance to win the game. There’s not many guys like that in this league . . . He’s got four elite pitches, so any time a guy can do that and locate them all, it’s going to be a long night.”
As the Blue Jays certainly could attest.
“He was just dialed in,” Boone said. “I thought he was putting it where and how he wanted to all night. I just thought he was where he wanted to be, over and over again.”