Joe Girardi had a go-to phrase on those rare occasions during his managerial tenure that the incomparable Mariano Rivera blew a save.
“He showed that he’s human today,” Girardi would say.
Gerrit Cole had been something other than human on the mound in the regular season the last year-plus, not having lost a game since last May 22 against the White Sox when he was a member of the Astros.
The ace’s 28-start undefeated streak came to a thud of an end Wednesday afternoon as he allowed three homers in a 5-1 loss to the Braves Wednesday afternoon in the first game of a doubleheader at Truist Park, a game in which the Yankees were held without a hit the first 5 1/3 innings by a pitcher making his big-league debut.
Things then actually got worse for the Yankees in the nightcap when Chad Green, unhittable most of this season, flushed a brilliant Masahiro Tanaka outing by allowing a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman with two outs in the sixth inning, leading to a brutal 2-1 loss, their fifth straight.
Tanaka came into sixth having retired seven straight and with a 1-0 lead but Green, after retiring the first two batters, allowed a Dansby Swanson single before Freeman slammed a 1-and-0 fastball to left-center for a 2-1 lead (the 1-0 lead came courtesy of Tyler Wade’s sacrifice fly in the fifth off Max Fried).
Furthermore, the second game saw the return of Aaron Judge from the injured list because of a right calf strain, but rightfielder, who went 1-for-3, was replaced in the field in the bottom of the sixth inning by Brett Gardner. No immediate word was given for the substitution.
Former Yankee Mark Melancon allowed a two-out single in the seventh to pinch hitter Gary Sanchez but got Mike Ford to ground out for the save.
Cole (4-1, 3.51), coming off last Wednesday’s outing against the Rays when the day’s biggest story was the anger he directed at Aaron Boone during and after the game for removing him in the seventh inning, allowed five runs, five hits and two walks over five innings.
Cole, 20-0 with a 1.97 ERA in the 28 starts of the unbeaten streak, struck out nine, mostly with a nasty slider, but the trio of homers – which gave the pitcher 10 allowed this season – were too much to overcome. He did not object when Boone came to get him with two on and none out in the sixth.
“It seemed to be a little bit feast or famine in terms of good command for a period of time, and then some bad command in some bad spots,” Cole said. “Times when I thought they were going to be aggressive and they were patient and times when I thought maybe I could grab a little more of the zone in some situations, I made a poor pitch and they were being aggressive. It just didn’t match up and they stayed about one step ahead of me too many times.”
Boone did not think Cole pitched badly at all.
“A couple of pitches back and it’s very much a dominant Gerrit outing,” Boone said.
Cole was severely outpitched by Braves rookie righthander Ian Anderson, who did not allow a hit until Luke Voit homered with one out in the sixth – giving the first baseman a fifth straight game with a homer and his team-leading 11th overall. Anderson, 22, allowed that one run and hit. He walked two and struck out six.
“I thought he did a good job of attacking the strike zone and being a little bit unpredictable,” Boone said of Anderson. “He has the advantage of us not having seen him much at all, obviously . . . he pitched well against us.”
The Yankees (16-11) looked like a team playing for the first time since last Thursday against the Rays. And, like that series, looking like a team missing some of its biggest bats – DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres, most prominently. Aaron Judge, activated from the IL, was in the lineup for Game 2.
The afternoon was a rough beginning to a potentially rough stretch for the Yankees – 35 games in 33 days – to end the regular season, a span that, counting Wednesday, included four doubleheaders (they have doubleheaders scheduled against the Mets Friday and Sunday).
Cole was tagged by the long ball early – in the first when leadoff man Ronald Acuna Jr, who hit 41 homers last year, hit one an estimated 473 feet to left-center and in the third when Dansby Swanson hit a two-run shot and Marcell Ozuna added a solo blast – estimated at 469 feet – to make it 4-0. Voit’s shot in the sixth put the Yankees on the board but Nick Markakis’ RBI double in the bottom half made it 5-1.
“Definitely went out there with the mentality to try and set the tone for the day, obviously having two games,” Cole said. “Definitely would have liked to have stepped up today but just didn’t do it.”