As if the Yankees need something else to worry about, the one sure thing in pinstripes isn’t any longer.
That would be Gerrit Cole, the presumptive favorite for the American League Cy Young Award, who before Tuesday night was the primary reason to believe the Yankees could hold on to a wild-card spot and likely win that do-or-die playoff game.
But that all changed in the fourth inning when Cole signaled to the dugout for the trainer. The conversation on the mound was brief. Cole handed the baseball to Aaron Boone, and a long, slow walk later, he was gone.
Did the Yankees’ playoff hopes disappear with Cole down that tunnel?
That might be a bit dramatic. Cole made it sound as if the injury — diagnosed as left hamstring tightness — isn't too bad. And pinning the Yankees' postseason bid on Cole’s health probably is an oversimplification of what’s ailing them at the moment.
Still, losing their $324 million ace for an indefinite period certainly has the potential to be a crippling blow, depending on the severity of his injury. And for a reeling team that now has gone 2-8 since its 13-game winning streak, the Yankees desperately needed their stopper to do some stopping Tuesday night.
Instead, Cole had to step away during the 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays, and maybe by doing so, he avoided a more serious, perhaps season-ending problem. Afterward, he didn’t rule out making his next start — a rare glimmer of hope amid this four-game slide — but he’s also not going to rush back either despite the team’s eroding lead in the wild-card race.
"I’m going to be smart about it," Cole said. "I don’t know how many times you feel 100% during the course of a year. Maybe April 1 sometimes, depending on how rough spring was. I’m definitely going to be as smart about it as I can and trust my instincts.
"My instincts helped me out tonight — being able to walk normally, at least getting through some pitches . . . Hopefully I’ll be able to make the next start. It’s not impossible. It’s not something I haven’t done before. We’ll see how it shakes out."
Even so, anything short of perfection from a Yankees starting pitcher these days isn’t close to enough. Cole already had given up three runs before his premature exit, and the night ended with the crowd of 30,164 again booing the Yankees off the field.
We’d like to give all the credit to former Met Steven Matz, the Ward Melville product, who held the Yankees to one run in six innings in lowering his ERA to 3.70 — significantly better than his cumulative 4.35 ERA from the previous six years in Flushing. Matz also improved to 11-7, matching his season-best win total from 2019 with the Mets (11-10).
But it’s impossible to tell how much of this to attribute to Matz’s resurgence with the Blue Jays or the Yankees’ own futility at the plate.
Obviously, Cole’s absence, however extended it might be, is a daunting obstacle to overcome. But whether he’s able to take the mound again in five days or not, it’s sort of a moot point if the Yankees don’t score.
Even if Cole hadn't been forced to leave Tuesday’s game, the Yankees would have been losers, seeing as they scored a whopping one run on eight hits — all of them singles. They’ve now had back-to-back games with zero walks and zero extra-base hits for only the fourth time in franchise history and first since 1962, according to YES. The two other two times (1904, ’08) happened before Babe Ruth played for the Red Sox, let alone the Yankees.
Heading into Tuesday night, the Yankees’ .202 batting average during their previous nine games ranked 28th overall — only the Marlins and Rockies were worse at .201 — and their .601 OPS was dead last. When you factor in that three of those games were against the Orioles, proud owners of baseball’s most bloated ERA (5.77), with opponents raking them at an MLB-high .266 clip, it’s hard to comprehend.
Boone even benched Joey Gallo and Gleyber Torres on Tuesday night, but the moves didn’t halt the losing — although Brett Gardner and Andrew Velazquez contributed four of those singles.
"Compared to yesterday, I thought we at least put some good swings on balls," Boone said. "But the bottom line is, we got to be better. We got our guys back now, and if we’re going to be the team we hope to be, our offense has to carry the freight for us."
For one of the rare times this season, Cole wasn’t able to be the guy Tuesday night. They better hope it’s another alarming trend that doesn’t continue.