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What was at Gerrit Cole’s fingertips Tuesday night was the Twins as an opponent. For the Yankees — and their players — they are annually the glue to fix anything that is broken.
So two evenings at Target Field have awoken Yankee bats, and if Cole didn’t exactly put his sticky controversy to sleep Wednesday night, the ace handled scrutiny and doubt well with six strong innings.
“The outside chatter is the outside chatter,” Cole said after the Yankees’ 9-6 triumph. “As players we have to do our best to stay focused on the job.”
He did. More stoic and serious than even his normal stoic, serious game-day self, Cole did not wilt with the knowledge that his every movement to cap or hair would be monitored and every revolution per minute on his pitches evaluated. He is center stage, after all, in the mounting fixation on pitchers using illegal sticky substances to enhance deception on their offerings.
Cole, with steep increases in spin rate since joining the Astros before the 2018 season, already was viewed as dubious. Then his spin rates went down noticeably while giving up five runs in five innings to the Rays in his previous start. Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson publicly called out Cole for suddenly losing spin just as MLB was increasing its detective work on the matter and moving toward instituting in-game inspections and possibly penalties. Then in his first public comments Tuesday, Cole hemmed and hawed when asked a “yes or no” question whether he used Spider Tack to gain an illegal edge. He offered plenty of spin, but no definitive answer.
His better response came against Donaldson and the Twins. Cole retired Donaldson in all three of their confrontations, the first two by strikeouts followed by what appeared to be at least a slight glare toward the Twins third baseman. Cole said there was no extra motivation against Donaldson, but two of his three fastest pitches — propelled at better than 100 mph — were to Donaldson.
“Nothing can faze that guy,” Aaron Judge said.
Except for perhaps direct questions about whether he is using illegal substances. He was asked after Wednesday’s game if he had deployed any against Minnesota. He declined to specify, saying it was not the right forum — what would be, by the way?
Cole’s lone runs allowed came on solo homers from Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano on fastballs that were down from his average revolutions on those pitches. Overall, Cole’s average spin was again down on his four-seam fastball and slider (though not substantially), but in standard range for his curve.
This is the righty’s plight now. He is clearly not the only pitcher with loads of suspicion surrounding him — Donaldson, in fact, noted before the game that fact. But he is the most expensive pitcher ever with a $324 million contract and the ace of the most famous team on the planet. That is going to make him as much the poster boy for this as anyone, but perhaps his enemy, Trevor Bauer.
“Who knows?” Aaron Boone said when asked whether this game moved Cole beyond this issue. “The one thing I know is he’s an amazing pitcher and a tremendous competitor. Whenever the dust settles and wherever this storyline goes, that ain’t changing.”
Cole struck out nine after failing to top seven in four straight starts. He walked none, but did at times struggle with command. The one worry the Yankees removed quickly from their, um, glue guy is questions whether they would win this game. No surprise. The Yanks are 105-37 (playoffs included) against Minnesota since 2002.
After beating Minnesota with eight runs and 14 hits Tuesday, the Yanks totaled 15 hits, and this was a rout before Brooks Kriske allowed four ninth-inning runs. They had nine extra-base hits, including four homers. Two by Giancarlo Stanton and one by Judge came on 0-2 pitches from Randy Dobnak. The Yanks have not hit three homers on 0-2 pitches in a game since at least 1987 (Baseball Reference data goes back to 1988). The Mariners on June 7, 2019, were the last team to do it. Miguel Andujar hit the Yankees’ other homer in the middle game of this series — his fifth in his last eight games.
So has the Yankees offense returned to its powerful pedigree or simply returned to mauling Minnesota pitching? For Cole, regardless of the reason, the timing worked on Wednesday. He had the eyes of baseball on him and performed.
For that, give him a (clean) hand.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Joel Sherman