The opponent was of no consequence to Gerrit Cole and the Yankees.
After the longest shortest MLB season of them all — the COVID-19 60-game version played in front of zero fans in ballparks across the country in 2020 — there would be fans in the seats at Yankee Stadium.
"Great," Cole said Wednesday of facing Toronto, a young team with a potentially fearsome lineup that could make the Blue Jays an AL East contender. "Bring it on."
Cole brought it well enough but was long gone when it was decided. Ultimately, it was Toronto bringing it when things mattered most and the Yankees’ offense doing the opposite in a 3-2, 10-inning loss to the Blue Jays in front of a sellout crowd of 10,850.
The gathering, which included managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, was vocal from the start of the crisp 43-degree afternoon and voiced its displeasure late with a cascade of Bronx cheers as the fruitless at-bats stacked up. The Yankees went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10.
"It’s part of it," Aaron Judge said of the boos. "Those fans, they want to watch us win and they let us know when we don’t do our job. And we didn’t do our job today, especially me."
With the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning in a 2-2 game, Judge grounded into a 5-4-3 double play. After pinch runner Mike Tauchman stole second with none out and third with one out in the ninth, a walk to Clint Frazier put runners on first and third. The Yankees needed only a sacrifice fly to win it, but DJ LeMahieu’s weak grounder to third resulted in an out at the plate and Judge struck out to send the game to extra innings.
"I just have to get a ball in the air, give us a lead," Judge said of his seventh-inning at-bat. "There in the ninth, same thing, hit something the other way, get it in the gap, wasn’t able to come through. Let the team down twice today."
Righty Nick Nelson, who won a bullpen spot with a standout spring training that had rival scouts raving during much of the Grapefruit League slate, found Opening Day a far different circumstance.
Per the runner-on-second-in-extra-innings rule put in last year, pinch runner Jonathan Davis started the 10th there for the Blue Jays. Randal Grichuk led off and lined a 97-mph fastball over Judge’s head in right for a double to make it 3-2. The run, per rule, was unearned and Nelson recovered to strike out the side.
Toronto righty Julian Merryweather came on in the bottom of the 10th with Judge beginning the inning on second and struck out
Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres on 11 pitches.
A Yankees offense that many opposing team scouts felt went through the motions during most of spring training continued along those lines much of the afternoon. The top six batters in the lineup went 2-for-26 with 12 strikeouts.
The lone highlight was Gary Sanchez’s two-run homer in the second, which gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Sanchez was far and away the star for the Yankees, having no issues with catching Cole and throwing out a runner attempting to steal second on a day in which he went 2-for-3 with a walk.
Teoscar Hernandez jumped all over a first-pitch hanging slider and hit a 437-foot home run off Cole in the sixth to tie it at 2-2.
The Yankees’ Opening Day winning streak came to an end at three games as they fell to 66-52-1 in season openers.
"It’s hard to break through," Aaron Boone said of the offense’s struggles. "Credit them with executing some pitches in some situations. I think toward the end of the game, it got pretty challenging for the hitters with the shadows and stuff. But they made the pitches today. We just couldn’t break through with the big hit. We had our chances."
The offense, of course, was not an area of concern going into spring training. Even after watching the unit’s struggles bleed into the regular season, it still isn’t for Boone.
"No, we’ll be fine," he said. "Again, we had our chances, we’re a hit or two away from having a big day on a day where at the back end of the game, it got a little bit difficult to see. We’ll get that [the offense] rolling sooner rather than later."