By Joe Pantorno
This was exactly what the Yankees doled out $324 million to Gerrit Cole for.
The Bronx Bombers’ ace outdueled the likely American League Cy Young Award winner, Shane Bieber, by leaps and bounds in Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Series on Tuesday night in the Yankees’ 12-3 blowout of the Cleveland Indians.
Cole was sterling in his first-ever postseason start as a member of the Yankees, allowing two runs on six hits over seven innings of work with 13 strikeouts, entering rarified air in the process.
He became just the second pitcher in MLB history to record multiple postseason games with at least 13 strikeouts. He struck out 15 Tampa Bay Rays in Game 2 of the ALDS last year while with the Houston Astros.
Only the legendary Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals has done that, striking out 13 Yankees in Game 5 of the 1964 World Series and an MLB-record 17 Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series.
He also joined Mets great Tom Seaver as the only pitcher in MLB history with 13 or more strikeouts and no walks in a postseason game.
“We needed to set the tone for this series. I’m obviously very thankful and humbled to take the ball and be in this position,” Cole said. “So to be able to deliver feels really good… It was definitely a special night.”
With Tuesday night’s outing, the 30-year-old righty is beginning to cement himself as one of the top postseason pitchers of this generation as his career playoff ERA remained at a solid 2.60 over 72.2 innings pitched while his WHIP was lowered to a slim 0.867, which ranks second all-time in MLB postseason history.
On top of that, his opponents’ batting average (.180) and his strikeouts per nine innings (11.27) are ranked first all-time while opponents’ on-base percentage (.227) is second.
“I thought he looked really sharp,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I thought he had all four pitches mixed in. He leaned on all of them. I thought they had some good at-bats against him in the first few innings to hang around… he just made a lot of big pitches.”
“He ended up not walking anyone… those were big pitches to keep his pitch count down and really polish off an impressive night.”
It was the exact punch the Yankees were looking for as Cole received plenty of run support from a reawakened offense that featured home runs from Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, and Giancarlo Stanton.
Judge’s blast, a two-run shot, gave Cole an instantaneous lead on just the fourth pitch of the game, helping set the ace’s tone for the night.
“It forces you to be aggressive and obviously, a solo home run doesn’t beat you,” he said. “But a solo home run doesn’t tie the game or lose the lead. It can be helpful to just attack the zone and establish where it is.”
While Cole’s outing was the cherry on top of a near-perfect Game 1, it also allowed the Yankees to reserve their most important bullpen arms for the rest of the series.
Boone only had to use Luis Cessa to finish off the night, ensuring the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino, and Zack Britton are fresh and can pitch Game 2 and 3 if necessary.
First pitch for Game 2 in Cleveland is scheduled for Wednesday night at 7:08 p.m. ET.