BALTIMORE — For five innings Saturday night, Gerrit Cole was as good as he’s ever been.
In a mini-slump of late, the ace righthander came out firing, striking out the side in the first inning en route to fanning eight of the first nine hitters he faced.
But it shockingly came apart in a ruinous sixth inning. Some sloppy defense and a sudden lack of command from Cole contributed to five runs storming across the plate, leading to a 6-1 loss to the Orioles.
D.J. Stewart hit two solo home runs for Baltimore, one off Cole to begin the scoring. Ryan Mountcastle had a two-run single and Rio Ruiz added a two-run double in the five-run sixth.
The Yankees (21-18), who saw their winning streak against the Orioles end at 19 games on Friday night, now have lost two straight to Baltimore. The Red Sox did them a favor Saturday night, earning a walk-off victory over Toronto that dropped the Blue Jays to 21-18.
Cole (4-3, 3.63) allowed five runs (one earned), four hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts in six innings. Since his 28-game unbeaten streak in which he went 20-0 ended late last month, Cole is 0-3 and has allowed six homers and 14 runs (10 earned) in 16 innings. “I try to take the good stuff from it, but in the end, especially right now, I just feel like it wasn’t good enough,’’ he said. “Some really nice pitches tonight, some really nice sequences, but in the end when the pitches mattered , we kind of fizzled out.”
Clint Frazier hit his fifth homer in the eighth to make it 6-1. While there might be some moderate concern about Cole, the bigger worry continues to be a mostly slumbering Yankees offense that was held to three hits through seven innings.
“It’s no secret that we’re all struggling right now,’’ Frazier said. “It’s a hard game and we’re missing some guys, but there’s no excuses. When it rains, it pours. We have to find cover.”
Said Aaron Boone, “We have to do a better job than that. We hear all the time who we have out, but the guys we ran out there tonight, we had a very capable lineup and we need to do a better job there. This is a time we’re getting kicked in the mouth right now and we have to put our heads down and get after it. This is not a time to feel sorry for ourselves.’’
Baltimore lefthander Keegan Akin, making just his second career start, allowed three hits and four walks in 5 1⁄3 scoreless innings. He struck out eight.
Cole, who some opposing team talent evaluators believe is tipping his pitches — something Cole himself mentioned after his previous start but ultimately dismissed Friday on the eve of this start — very much appeared as if he had solved his recent difficulties as he cruised into the sixth at just 66 pitches.
But his 96-mph fastball to Stewart to start the inning caught too much of the plate and wound up over the rightfield wall.
Hanser Alberto reached with one out on an ugly throwing error by third baseman Thairo Estrada. Cole did not use that as an excuse for the four subsequent runs he allowed, saying, “I should have stopped the bleeding.”
“For as good as he’s been at times this year, it was off to a special start,’’ Boone said. “Some of the subtle adjustments clicked, everything was playing for him. I know he’s upset with the way it finished . . . For five innings, it looked like we were on to something special tonight.”
He added, “I don’t worry about our confidence because I know looking at our guys, I know they have a lot of confidence in their ability. We have to play better. Period. It’s incumbent on all of us. It starts with me.’’