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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yanks' optimism washed away with double whammy: Gerrit Cole tests positive + bad loss to Orioles

Anthony Rizzo, left, and Joey Gallo  of

Anthony Rizzo, left, and Joey Gallo  of the New York Yankees talk after the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

As bad as things have gotten this season for the Yankees, there always seems to be something worse.

Take Monday night, for example. After the Bronx debuts of Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo were mostly ruined by fellow deadline acquisition Andrew Heaney making history as the only Yankee to give up four homers in his team debut, then came the hammer:

Aaron Boone’s announcement during the postgame Zoom session that Gerrit Cole had tested positive for COVID-19.

First off, Cole’s health is the primary concern, and the only details Boone provided was that he was told of the test results during the second inning of Monday’s 7-1 loss to the Orioles. Of course, Cole won’t be starting Tuesday, with Nestor Cortes Jr. now likely to take his spot.

Boone also didn’t say what Cole’s positive means for the rest of the Yankees, who now could be on the verge of their third outbreak this season and second in the past two weeks. The Yankees had six players in the COVID protocol sandwiched around the All-Star break, with Aaron Judge and Kyle Higashioka returning last week against the Rays.

"It’s been a tough year," Gary Sanchez said through an interpreter. "With this news of Cole, it’s definitely a low blow there . . . Bottom line, if we have to get tested, we’ll get tested and keep battling."

Now the contact tracing starts anew, and Cole was on the field speaking to people Monday afternoon. During his pregame Zoom session, he seemed fine, and the conversation was limited to baseball and his upcoming start. When Boone was asked about the next step with potential team-wide testing, his only response was "I don’t know."

Some of the Yankees said they didn’t even know of Cole’s positive test until a few minutes before the Zoom interview session. In the case of Gallo and the other new Yankees, their first day in the actual pinstripes could end up putting them in quarantine.

"We do a pretty good job of keeping distance still," Gallo said. "So I’m not too worried about that. I’m hoping for the best for [Cole] and our team and hopefully there’s no other positives."

For whatever reason, the Yankees can’t shake COVID despite being one of 23 teams to reach the 85% threshold for vaccinations. With the highly contagious Delta variant now blazing through the U.S. — and responsible for the majority of infections in New York — the risk of more outbreaks is increasing.

And with the COVID concerns now swirling around the clubhouse again, Monday’s lackluster performance became an afterthought, as terrible as that looked. Through six innings against Orioles starter Jorge Lopez, who brought a 2-12 record and 6.19 ERA into the game, Gallo had the Yankees’ only hit (a leadoff double in the sixth) and Rizzo had their lone RBI (a sacrifice fly in the fifth after two walks).

This was not the impact GM Brian Cashman envisioned when he made those two deadline trades last week. The idea was for Gallo and Rizzo to spark the Yankees’ moribund offense, not supply the whole thing. But ever since the pair showed up Friday in Miami, the rest of the Yankees have practically disappeared at the plate.

Maybe that’s not entirely true. They did stand there Monday night with a bat in their hands long enough to draw five walks from Lopez, including three in the first two innings, along with Rizzo’s hit-by-pitch.

And the Yankees did nothing with any of it aside from Rizzo, who in the fifth inning sliced a sacrifice fly into foul territory to cut the Yankees’ deficit to 4-1. Gallo broke up Lopez’ no-hit bit by leading off the sixth with a 107.3-mph double to the right-centerfield wall, then watched the futility behind him.

When the loudest cheers of the night are for a gray tiger-striped cat that got loose in leftfield in the eighth, it was clear the crowd had abandoned the other Stadium residents in the navy stripes.

We already knew the Yankees were a baffling team from an offensive standpoint. Entering Monday, their 4.09 runs per game ranked 25th overall behind the Orioles (4.15) and Diamondbacks (4.13) — the two teams with the worst winning percentages in the majors.

But that was all supposed to change with the arrival of Gallo and Rizzo, especially once they got home, put on pinstripes and started taking a few hacks at the short porch in right. The Orioles just beat them to it.

Heaney was acquired from the Angels as back-end rotation help. Based on Monday’s performance, that rotation should be in Somerset. With the Yankees’ season-long offensive struggles, he basically put the game out of reach by allowing four home runs during a six-batter stretch that began with two outs in the third inning.

With each homer, the boos grew louder, and Pedro Severino — the seventh Oriole of this conga line — came within two feet of hitting No. 5 when his drive caromed off the centerfield wall for a 408-foot double.

Heaney’s four homers match his career high, and he has Gallo to thank for saving him any further dignity. When Maikel Franco ripped a liner into the leftfield corner, Gallo made a sprinting, leaping grab to rob him of extra bases and an RBI.

All of that seemed of little consequence by night’s end. With Cole sidelined indefinitely, the Yankees have something new to worry about. Just add it to the pile with the rest.

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