ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Gerrit Cole has seldom been better in his time in pinstripes, an already high bar.
The Yankees needed every bit of that brilliance Wednesday night.
The righthander, getting only Aaron Hicks' sacrifice fly in support, made that enough, striking out 12 over eight electric innings of a 1-0 victory over the Rays in front of 5,668 at Tropicana Field.
"He’s an ace, he is an absolute bulldog," manager Aaron Boone said. "I think he lives for pitching when it’s tough in the biggest of games. Obviously, in a 1-0 game, we needed all of it."
The Yankees (20-16), shoving aside for a few hours the COVID-19 outbreak among their coaching and support staff, have won 14 of their last 19 games.
Cole improved to 5-1 with a 1.37 ERA after allowing four hits. His 78 strikeouts through his first eight starts is the most by any Yankees pitcher in his first eight games of a season. Cole has walked just three, not walking a batter since his third start of the season, April 12 against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Florida.
"There was a lot going on today and it was a bit challenging to get focused for the game," Cole said. "But once you’re there, it’s kind of business as usual. I try to mindset all of the time and I think it’s helpful when there’s a little bit more on the line."
The Yankees managed six hits against five Rays pitchers, three by Aaron Judge, who singled in the seventh and eventually scored on Hicks’ sacrifice fly to center.
Cole worked around a first-inning "double" when Austin Meadows skied one toward rightfield, the ball connecting with the "B" ring that overhangs the field. According to Tropicana Field ground rules, any fair ball hitting the ‘B" ring is in play. Cole, though visibility irritated, got Manuel Margot to ground out and he struck out Brandon Lowe swinging at a 98-mph fastball to end the 15-pitch inning.
Cole’s strikeout of Brett Phillips for the second out of the third inning gave him 1,500 in his career. He retired the final eight he faced, striking out the side in the eighth, his 106th and final pitch of the night a 99-mph fastballPhillips didn’t come close on. Aroldis Chapman, working for the fourth time in five games, struck out one in a perfect ninth that made him 9-for-9 in saves. He has not allowed a run in 15 outings and has 31 strikeouts in 15 innings.