Sports

Gerrit Cole’s fit of Yankees rage was thing of beauty

You pay for the arm, sure. You damn sure pay for the fastball, which ticked to 99 a couple of times, and for the filthy breaking stuff, and for the swagger he carries himself with. You pay for the poise Gerrit Cole provides every time he steps on the mound, and for the fact by all accounts he’s a hell of a teammate.

All of that comes with your $324 million.

But what you also get is the fury of a crazed competitor, one that an hour later still burned, still filled him with anger. Maybe that’s what you pay for most of all. And as wonderful as that was to see Wednesday night, at the end of a muggy August night, it will be even more useful, more beneficial, when the air is colder and the stakes higher.

“I wanted to finish the game,” Cole said, choosing his words carefully, knowing that to match the rage he was still feeling with the proper words from the thesaurus would be to say things he would want to take back later. Eventually. “The body of work over the course of the day and the course of the game speaks for itself.”

The Yankees lost to the Rays again, 4-2, further proof that the tarpons of Tampa aren’t merely a stone in the Yankees’ shoe but among a small cadre of clubs (alongside the Athletics and the Twins) capable of impeding the Yankees during the American League portion of October’s postseason tournament.

But Cole was Cole, which is about as simple and as perfect a description befitting any pitcher in the sports right now. He made one bad pitch — a 2-and-1 change that Ji-Man Choi made disappear in the second inning — and was brilliant the rest of the way. Even the other run he surrendered, a homer to Mike Zunino in the third, was the product of his willingness to throw his fastball aggressively in the zone, dare hitters to take their best shot.

Gerrit ColePaul J. Bereswill

Sometimes, they do.

Mostly, they don’t. Mostly, across this season, and really across the last three seasons, Gerrit Cole has the capacity to make major league hitters look like they belong in the Cape Cod League. And when he’s feeling his best, he doesn’t want to hand the ball over to anyone: not to Aaron Boone, not to Mariano Rivera, not to Christy Mathewson.

Except here came Boone with two outs in the seventh. It tells you something about Cole that, sitting on 99 pitches through six, he’d demanded the chance to pitch the seventh. Boone was smart enough to say, “Go ahead.”

And Boone was also smart enough — once he decided he favored a Zack Britton-Austin Meadows matchup with a man on and two out in a 2-2 game — to make the call for the bullpen just as he hopped out of the dugout. This preempted whatever debate might’ve ensued on the mound if he’d made it that far.

It also was not with good humor. Cole was hacked off. And he wasn’t shy about letting the world know, screaming into his mitt, stalking back to the dugout, muttering, fuming, still unhappy as he walked the length of the dugout and disappeared for a bit in the tunnel, still unhappy when Britton struck Meadows out to end the inning and he clapped at the railing.

And still displeased when he spoke after the game.

“Whatever I said to him in my glove,” Cole said, “I’ll leave it at that.”

Boone, not surprisingly, loves that part of his pitcher, the furnace that percolates in his soul. This is why the Yankees targeted him, why they recruited him, why they wined him and dined him and paid him what they did. The arm was the lure. The heart closed the deal.

“That’s just the competitor in him,” Boone said later on, recognizing that Cole probably wasn’t going to offer him a postgame beer and happy talk. “He’s an ace. He wants the ball.”

He wound up throwing 109 pitches, a number that in 2020 almost looks like a typo. In a short season, with its start-and-stop-and-restart rhythm, managers have been more careful with their pitchers than ever. Luis Rojas looked like he was ready to Bubble Wrap Jacob deGrom by hand after six innings and 91 pitches down in Miami Wednesday night, and that isn’t outlier behavior.

If Boone had let Cole finish the seventh, odds are he would’ve made a pitch for the eighth, too. “I wanted to finish the game,” he said, and there is no reason to believe he was saying that just to say it. His eyes still roiled, his words still boiled. In August, mind you. In August.

This is why you write the check.

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