Gerrit Cole got his personal catcher back on Tuesday night. And coincidence or not, he threw one of his best games as a Yankee.
With Kyle Higashioka behind the plate instead of Gary Sanchez, Cole matched his Yankees high with 13 strikeouts in seven shutout innings in a 7-2 victory over the Orioles at Yankee Stadium.
Cole, who hit 101 miles per hour with his fastball, recorded seven outs in a row via strikeout in a 10-batter span from the second through the fourth innings.
He also finished with a flourish, retiring the final 12 batters he faced. Cole ended his night by striking out Freddy Galvis on his 97th pitch at 98 mph.
"He struck out a lot of people," Jay Bruce said.
Cole allowed four hits and didn’t walk a batter to earn his first victory of the season. Bruce hit his first home run as a Yankee, a solo shot to the short porch in right in the second, and Aaron Judge added a 432-foot, three-run bomb to the left-centerfield bleachers in the eighth as the Yankees improved to 3-2.
Higashioka and Cole became a tandem late in the 2020 season and also in the playoffs. But manager Aaron Boone decided to start Sanchez on Thursday’s Opening Day, when Cole was a little off and allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Blue Jays.
Cole’s previous top regular-season start as a Yankee also came against the Orioles, when he pitched a seven-inning shutout (2 H, 1 BB, 9 Ks) on Sept. 11 in the first game of a doubleheader. It was the only start in 2020 in which Cole did not allow an earned run.
In Game 1 of the 2020 wild-card series, Cole struck out 13 in seven innings and allowed two runs in Cleveland. Considering the importance of that game, was that his best Yankees start? Was it the seven-inning shutout? Was it Tuesday night?
"It’s hard to say," Cole said when asked just that. "Cleveland was pretty good. The Rays. The line doesn’t look as good, but I think I pitched against them eight times last year [actually, five]. It kinda gets tough when you face someone like eight times in nine weeks. It was a good day today. It was certainly a good day."
Cole’s three best starts as a Yankee all share one common denominator: Cole got Higgy with it as Higashioka was behind the plate instead of Sanchez.
Tuesday was Sanchez’s first game off after he started the first four. It was a routine lineup move – your No. 1 catcher doesn’t play every game -- but carries large implications over the season if Boone does or does not keep Cole and Higashioka together.
"I’ll pair them up, I’m sure, a fair amount," Boone said. "But I also felt like, especially going back to Opening Day, I felt like Gary and Gerrit were really good together. I’m comfortable with both guys. But Higgy and him definitely have a good kinda thing going, and a ying and a yang."
Bruce helped Cole with his defense in the first inning.
The Orioles had a runner on third and nobody out on a single by Cedric Mullins, a stolen base and a wild pitch. Cole struck out Trey Mancini and the Yankees then brought the infield in – an interesting move so early in the game that paid off for Boone.
Anthony Santander hit a groundball to first that Bruce backhanded. Bruce’s rightfielder’s arm was on display as he nailed Mullins at the plate with Higashioka making the tag.
"That was a big play there in the first inning," Boone said. "Kinda one of those little under-the-radar, really good plays."
After Bruce gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the second, they expanded it to 3-0 in the fourth. A run scored when DJ LeMahieu hit into a bases-loaded double play. Judge followed with an RBI single. Giancarlo Stanton added an RBI double in the seventh.
Judge (3-for-5, four RBIs) made it a late-breaking laugher in the eighth with his second home run in as many nights.