Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws to a Baltimore Orioles...

Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws to a Baltimore Orioles batter during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, May 18, 2022, in Baltimore. Credit: Terrance Williams

BALTIMORE – Andy Pettitte years ago echoed what many top pitchers have said over the years.

“It’s more often than not,” the long-time Yankees lefthander said, “that you don’t have your best stuff out there.”

And it’s the best pitchers who figure out a way to still win, or at the very least keep their team in the game.

Gerrit Cole had one of those outings Wednesday night.

Though not as dominant as he’s been at times of late, Cole still made it through seven innings and mostly held the Orioles down in a 3-2 victory in front of 13,850 at Camden Yards.

Cole, who came in 3-0 with a 2.95 ERA, including 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA in his previous four starts, allowed two runs and six hits, lowering his season ERA to 2.89. He struck out five – all of them coming in a row in a dominant stretch in the fourth and fifth innings – and did not walk a batter.

“Look, tonight we won on base running and defense,” said Cole, who threw 24 pitches in the first inning – stranding two runners – and gradually got better from there, especially with his fastball, until getting dinged for two runs in the sixth.

The Yankees (28-9), who clinched their ninth straight series win and have won 23 of their last 27 games, started a season winning 28 of their first 37 games for just the fifth time in franchise history. The last time occurred in 1998 when the Yankees went 114-48 and captured the World Series championship.

“A common theme on some of the good teams I’ve played on, including this one, is you want to get after the baseball every pitch, on defense or on offense,” Cole said. “Collectively as a group we’re not taking very many pitches off and we’re giving our best effort. Obviously, we have a lot of talent and I think the combination of those two things is why we’re in the position we’re in.”

Clay Holmes pitched a scoreless eighth – he allowed a one-out single to Austin Hays, but Anthony Rizzo snared an Anthony Santander bullet and doubled Hays off first – and came back out for the ninth at eight pitches. The righthander, whose sinker Aaron Boone called “one of the nastiest pitches in baseball,” struck out one in a 1-2-3 ninth to move to 3-for-3 this season in save chances, lowering his ERA to 0.44 in 19 games.

“It’s been very important,” Holmes said of his sinker. “It’s been a pitch I’ve been able to throw and trust, especially in the zone. When I’m in good counts and I throw my sinker, I’ve gotten people on the ground quite a bit. Confidence has grown with it.”

The Bombers didn’t do much against Baltimore righty Jordan Lyles, who allowed three runs (two earned) and five hits over seven innings in which he struck out eight. Lyles, who at one point retired 13 in a row, allowed all three runs in the first.

The Yankees, who improved to an MLB-best 19-2 when scoring first, rallied for three two-out runs in the top of the first.

Rizzo made it 30 of 34 starts in which he’s reached base at least once with a single. Josh Donaldson followed with a single to right, making it 24 straight games in which the third baseman reached base.

Gleyber Torres improved to 10 for his last 22 with an RBI double. With Joey Gallo at the plate, Lyles threw a wild pitch, the ball skittering far enough away from catcher Anthony Bemboom, who committed an error in picking it up and trying to throw it to Lyles, that allowed not only Donaldson to score from third, but a heads-up Torres came around to score from second to make it 3-0.

“It’s been a great start, no question,” Boone said. “We also understand it’s very early. I keep saying we understand that, but the more we can pile up right now, makes it easier on us down the road. Pleased with how they’re doing it and doing it in a lot of different ways.” 

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