BALTIMORE — On the eve of the Astros playing host to the Rays in a deciding Game 5 of last October’s ALDS, then-Houston manager AJ Hinch exuded nothing but conviction in his faith his club would move on.
“With Cole on the mound, I don't know who could be more confident than us,” Hinch said. His faith, of course, was rewarded a day later when Cole allowed one run and two hits over eight brilliant innings in which he struck out 10 in a 6-1 victory.
The feeling Hinch expressed is one Cole’s new team very much can associate with — even with the righthander’s Yankees’ career all of two starts old.
After earning the victory in the season-opener in Washington by allowing one run and a hit in five innings of a rain-shortened victory, Cole moved to 2-0 after allowing three runs and four hits in 6 2/3 innings — while walking two and striking out seven — in Wednesday’s 9-3 victory over the Orioles.
“You just need that one run for him,” said Aaron Judge, whose first homer of the season, a shot in the third inning, gave Cole a 3-1 lead. “It’s just impressive to watch and fun to watch as a guy on defense.”
Cole allowed more than one run Wednesday night, but his final line didn’t adequately represent his overall dominance. Cole entered the seventh inning having not allowed a hit since Jose Iglesias’ one-out RBI double in the first. Before Renato Nunez’s two-out double in the seventh — the first of three straight hits that ended Cole’s night at 102 pitches — the pitcher had retired 14 straight and 19 of 20.
“I was pleased with the outing," Cole said, acknowledging he started feeling a bit of fatigue in the seventh. "It just didn't end on a high note."
For those who entered the year concerned about Cole’s relationship with his new catcher, Gary Sanchez, indications on that front continue to trend positive.
Cole was supposed to face the Phillies Tuesday night but that start didn’t happen because of the outbreak of COVID-19 cases on the Marlins and the ensuing fallout that impacted the Yankees schedule. It forced them at the last minute to come here to play the Orioles twice.
Cole, notorious for his borderline obsessiveness when it comes to preparation, had spent the previous days prepping for the Phillies lineup before having to quickly pivot. Unprompted, Cole brought up Sanchez as a primary reason he was able to do so with success.
“I think Gary was a huge help in this situation, knowing the Orioles really well," Cole said. "Our communication was flowing well, and I thought that we were able to keep a steady mix to stay one step ahead of them. I leaned a lot on Gary's familiarity, and we executed a lot of pitches, so we were in a good spot."
Then, there is the matter of the streak. With Wednesday’s victory, Cole extended his career-long winning streak to 18 games — six shy of Carl Hubbell’s record — improving to 18-0 with a 1.88 ERA in his previous 24 starts, his last loss coming May 22 of last season against the White Sox. It is the sixth-longest winning streak in MLB history and his 24-start undefeated streak is tied for fifth-longest in MLB history.
Only Roger Clemens (30 games from June 3, 1998-June 1, 1999), Kris Medlen (28 games from May 31, 2009-Sept. 30, 2012), Dave McNally (28 games from Sept. 22, 1968-July 30, 1969), and Firpo Marberry (27 games from June 14, 1930-July 25, 1931) had longer undefeated streaks as a starter.
“Can he? Sure,” Boone said before Thursday night’s game of Cole’s chances to match or surpass Hubbell. “He’s probably the best pitcher on the planet right now so I won’t put anything past him.”
Cole let out a laugh before answering the same question.
“Oh my God. I don’t know. We’ll see. We’ve got next week,” he said. “We’ve got to win 19 before we win 20, I guess, right? Just try to bounce back and take it one day at a time.”