by Howie Karpin, The NY Extra/thenyextra.com
Gerrit Cole got a grip.
Cole overcame some early windy conditions, the impending enhanced crackdown on the use of foreign substances and the pressure to help the Yankees turn their season around, to toss eight strong innings in a big 3-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Sahlen Field in Buffalo. “Really windy early, very tough to grip the ball. Wind died down later in the game, I had more feel. It got better as it progressed,” Cole said on the post game zoom.
MLB announced that the rules concerning foreign substances on the baseball will be enforced to the “letter of the law” beginning with next Monday’s games. Pitchers who are found to have committed a violation will be ejected and will be levied a ten game suspension. “We’re all just trying to play by the rules. Spin rate is not everything, you can still pitch well without a high spin rate,” the Yankee ace said.
Gary Sanchez hit a pinch-hit, two-run home run in the top of the 7th to give the Yankees the lead and Aroldis Chapman pitched in and out of serious trouble in the 9th but it was Cole who carries the burden of this latest controversy that hovers over the sport. The Yankee right hander was called out last week by Minnesota Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson for using an illegal substance to give his pitches more movement.
It’s hard enough to grip the ball but the cool weather makes it even tougher and it was a cool 67 degrees at first pitch. Cole said, “Part of the reason why almost every player on the field has something, regardless if they’re a pitcher or not, is to help them control the ball.”
Cole’s spin rate will be a focus of every one of his starts from here on out. The spin rate on his four seam fastball was down more than 200 RPM than his season average, but he was efficient with his secondary stuff that he used to keep the aggressive Jays’ hitters off balance.
With the controversial spotlight focused squarely on him, Cole made some subtle adjustments and dispelled some of the outside noise that he needed to “doctor the ball” to get hitters out.
“I don’t think repertoire-wise was too different. He adapts, based on the team you’re playing, how many times you’ve faced that team. He makes adjustments,” Yankee Mgr. Aaron Boone said after the game. “Obviously when you go eight innings and you’re goin’ three times through a lineup, you’ve gotta attack, especially good hitters and good offenses, a little bit different all the time and he’s always willing to do that.”
Cole gave up two solo home runs to Marcus Semien in the first and Cavan Biggio in the fifth, but once he got the lead, he turned it up a notch and retired the final six hitters he faced in the 7th and 8th innings. On his penultimate pitch, he threw a 101 MPH fastball and the finished off Bo Bichette with a 94 MPH change up that he grounded out to second. Cole gave up one hit (Biggio HR) on his secondary pitches and the Jays were 0 for 10 against the change up.
Chapman had a roller coaster ninth inning. Vlad Guerrero Jr. singled to start the inning and Teoscar Hernandez doubled to put runners on second and third with nobody out.
After Yankee killer Randal Grichuk struck out, pinch-hitter Santiago Espinal hit a comebacker to the mound that Chapman snagged. Guerrero Jr. went on contact and started for home. Chapman almost blew the play by throwing home too soon (instead of running right at the runner who was caught between third and home) but Sanchez saved him with a good throw to third that just got Guerrero Jr. who was trying to get back as he slapped the third base bag in frustration for a committing a base running blunder.
Chapman got Lourdes Gurriel Jr. on a line out to Brett Gardner in center field to preserve Cole’s 8th win and record his 14th save.
Sanchez has gotten hot. In his last 16 games, the beleaguered Yankee catcher is hitting .346 with 5 home runs and 11 runs batted in. “He’s had the courage to make adjustments and he’s getting some of the rewards now,” Boone said.
Cole reached out to Major League Baseball with his concern that this sudden enforcement could lead to some unfortunate accidents.
“Please just talk with us, please just work with us. I know you have the hammer here,” he said. “We’ve been living in a gray area for so long. I would just hate to see players get hurt, I would hate to see balls start flying at people’s heads. I had a really tough time gripping the baseball tonight especially early when it was windy.”