TAMPA — The last time Gerrit Cole pitched at Tropicana Field, his start went from a gem to a disaster in the blink of an eye.
That came on May 7 of this year. The Yankees blew a 6-0 lead with their ace on the mound that day and ultimately lost, 8-7, in 10 innings. Cole, who had cruised through the first four frames before running into trouble in the fifth and sixth, gave up six runs, five of which were earned.
The loss was one of the Yankees’ worst in a season that has since been filled with worthy candidates.
But Cole has mostly been a silver lining for the last-place Yankees, and a Friday return to The Trop saw the Cy Young contender stay true to form in a 6-2 win for the Yankees.
The righty lasted 7.2 innings in the series-opener while tallying four hits, two earned runs, zero walks, 11 strikeouts and 100 pitches before exiting to an ovation on the road. In doing so, Cole lowered his ERA to 2.95.
“I said to him afterwards, ‘That’s about as good as I’ve seen you right there,’” Aaron Boone said. “That’s what it looked like to me against, obviously, a really good offense that’s familiar with him.”
Boone specifically praised Cole’s heater and curveball. Cole, meanwhile, noted that he spent the week making mechanical adjustments after the Red Sox tagged him for six earned runs his last time out.
Cole credited Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake, director of pitching Sam Briend and an unnamed friend for the tweaks. When asked if that friend’s initials are J.V. — as in former Astros teammate Justin Verlander — a smiling Cole replied, “I’m just gonna leave it at he’s probably going to be in the Hall of Fame one day.”
As for what the adjustments were, Cole had this to say: “We just worked backwards from the release point. There’s just some inconsistency getting through the ball and trying to figure out how in the delivery to give myself a better opportunity to put more pure spin through the ball. I worked hard on that this week. It doesn’t always work out where you see the results right away, but the results were definitely there. It was a good adjustment.”
The Rays’ first run off Cole came in the sixth when Yandy Díaz hit a homer with no one on base. The pitcher was charged with another run in the eighth when Brandon Lowe logged an RBI single off of Jonathan Loáisiga.
The Yankees’ offense, meanwhile scored two runs off of Rays starter Zach Eflin.
DJ LeMahieu supplied the first run with a fifth-inning solo shot, his 10th dinger of the year. Everson Pereira then made it 2-0 with an RBI single in the sixth.
While the Yankees were able to get to Eflin, he certainly gave them trouble. The right-hander totaled six innings, seven hits, two earned runs, one walk and 11 strikeouts over 103 pitches, thus producing a line eerily similar to Cole’s.
“I thought Eflin was really good, but I thought our at-bats against him were good,” Boone said. “He punched us out quite a bit, but I think that’s a credit to how well he was pitching. But we were able to square a lot of balls up against him, even before we kind of broke it open.”
But Tampa Bay’s first man out of the pen, Trevor Kelley, could not keep the Bombers at Bay. The side-armer, pitching in the majors for the first time since June 3, allowed three earned runs as the Yankees padded their lead with RBI doubles from Gleyber Torres and Giancarlo Stanton in the seventh.
Kelley then surrendered LeMahieu’s second home run of the night, also of the solo variety, in the eighth inning. The 3-for-4 performance marked LeMahieu’s first multi-homer game since May 7, 2021.
“It was so good to see,” Boone said of LeMahieu, who has hit much better since the All-Star break after struggling in the first half. “I think just a little more life within his load, getting on his backside a little bit. That’s building him a little speed in his swing. So I just think he’s a little faster. Rifles a ball up the middle off of Eflin and then he gets a hanger and hits it out. And then off of the side-armer to be able to ride one out of there as well, it was really good to see him have that level of at-bats.”
With a victory in the books to start a long road trip, the Yankees will look to secure their second series win since July began on Saturday. Clarke Schmidt will start against the Rays, who hold the American League’s first wild card spot.
Tyler Glasnow will start for Tampa, while Zack Littell will pitch for the Rays on Sunday. Carlos Rodón will take the ball for the Yankees in the series finale.
Source: Berkshire mont