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Gerrit Cole sharp, but Yanks' bullpen folds against Royals

Yankees manager Aaron Boone takes the ball from

Yankees manager Aaron Boone takes the ball from relief pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga during the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Gerrit Cole, front and center for weeks now regarding MLB’s intent to crackdown on the use of illegal substances applied to baseballs, delivered this bottom line after his most recent start:

"Spin rate’s not everything," Cole said June 16. "You can still pitch well if you don’t have a high spin rate."

Cole’s spin rate, especially on his fastball, has been down since June 3, the day after word leaked of the sport’s intention to eliminate the sticky substances many pitchers apply to baseballs to make them do sometimes wicked things.

Tuesday night made it four straight outings in which Cole’s spin rate in general was down, but Tuesday also made it three straight outings in which Cole pitched well.

His bullpen, however, was another matter and it sent the Yankees to a 6-5 loss to the Royals in front of 21,130 at the Stadium.

The Yankees (38-34), who got a homer and triple from Luke Voit as he made his return from the injured list, fell behind 6-3 after Jonathan Loaisiga allowed four runs in the top of the eighth.

"Definitely a frustrating night for me," said Loaisiga, who brought a 1.63 ERA in 30 appearances into the night. "I lost the game. Gerrit Cole threw a great game and I lost that for him."

The Yankees pulled within 6-5 on DJ LeMahieu’s two-run homer with one out off Kyle Zimmer in the bottom of the eighth but, after Aaron Judge doubled off Scott Barlow, the righty retired two straight to end the threat.

Gio Urshela led off the ninth against righthander Greg Holland with a single and pinch runner Miguel Andujar went to second when Gleyber Torres struck out swinging at a wild pitch. Clint Frazier struck out and the scorching Gary Sanchez was intentionally walked. Brett Gardner popped out to end it, concluding a forgettable night in which the Yankees went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 13.

Though without the swing-and-miss stuff emblematic of so many of his starts the first two months, Cole, relying plenty this night on his slider, allowed two runs and three hits in seeing his ERA tick to 2.33 from 2.31. The righthander struck out six and walked three.

He nearly ended up improving to 9-3 because of Voit.

The first baseman, back after missing 22 games with a right oblique strain, homered in his first at-bat in the first. He tripled and scored in the seventh – on a wild pitch with Giancarlo Stanton at the plate – to break a 2-2 tie. The call on the field – a triple and not fan interference – was reviewed and upheld.

"I was ready to go from pitch one," Voit said of his night. "Felt really good tonight."

Cole kept it 2-2 game a half-inning before. After walking Michael Taylor with two outs in the seventh to put a runner at second, Cole talked Aaron Boone into keeping him in. With his 108th, and final, pitch of the night, Cole struck out Nicky Lopez swinging at a 100-mph fastball.

Kyle Higashioka, Cole’s personal catcher since September of last year, made it 2-0 in the second with his sixth homer (and first since May 8 against Max Scherzer and the Nationals).

Cole, his fastball sitting 95-97 mph in the first, walked Carlos Santana with one out in the first but allowed no further damage in the14-pitch inning in which two of the outs were recorded via the ground and one via the air.

Per MLB’s new enforcement rules regarding sticky substances, which went into effect Monday across the sport, all pitchers had their gloves, caps and, in some cases, their belt buckles checked Tuesday. Cole had his hat and glove briefly examined by plate umpire Brian Knight and third-base umpire Bill Miller coming off the field at the end of the third and sixth innings with no noticeable reaction.

"Still definitely adjusting," Cole said of adapting to a new reality on the mound. "(But I’m) pitching well, throwing up innings, throwing up a lot of zeroes. So we keep doing what we’re doing and push on."

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