Gerrit Cole pitches masterpiece as Yankees beat Rays to secure first series win in Tampa in two years
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Gerrit Cole found the only place he could get some peace this week. The Yankees ace left behind his worries as a union rep trying to help guide his teammates through the COVID-19 outbreak on their coaching staff and just focused on dominating the Rays pitch by pitch.
He was absolutely dominating.
Cole pitched eight shutout innings, striking out a dozen as the Yankees beat the Rays 1-0 at Tropicana Field.
“Anytime we get to play right now it’s like a nice release, which is the only thing we have to focus on,” a stoic Cole said after the game. “We’ve got to focus on winning the game. So we take our minds off everything that’s happened over the last few days and get to kind of take a break from it because that’s our job.”
Cole scattered four hits, struck out a dozen and did not walk a batter in his longest start of the season. Aaron Hicks’ sacrifice fly brought in the only run Cole needed. He handed the lead to Aroldis Chapman, who picked up his ninth save, and the Yankees had their first 1-0 win since Aug. 11, 2019.
“He’s an ace. I mean, he is an absolute bulldog,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I think he lives for pitching, when it’s tough and in the biggest of games. Obviously in a 1-0 game, we needed all of it.”
The right-hander has not issued a walk in his last five starts, spanning 39 innings. He has struck out 56 batters since he last walked a batter, tying Curt Schilling’s major league record, set in 2002, for most consecutive strikeouts without issuing a walk.
“I just want to force the issue. I mean, they can always hit it at somebody, I guess,” Cole said about attacking the strike zone and not issuing walks.
Cole now has 11 career 12-strikeout, 0-walk games, tied for the second most among active pitchers, behind Chris Sale’s 12 and tied for fourth most all time in baseball history with Pedro Martinez.
It was his fifth ― out of eight — starts this season with at least 10 strikeouts and no walks, which leads the majors and is a franchise record. It was his 37th double-digit strikeout game since 2018. He has 78 strikeouts on the season, the most by any Yankee pitcher in history through their first eight starts.
Perhaps most importantly for the Yankees, it was Cole’s first ever career regular-season win over the Rays.
It was the first series the Yankees (20-16) had taken from the Rays (19-19) since July 15-18, 2018, and the first at Tropicana Field since May 2019. After losing their first four series of the season, the Yankees have now won their last seven. The Yankees have won 15 of their last 21 games overall.
Any game against the Rays, who not only won the American League East last year, but eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs, is big to the Yankees.
“Certainly (I) enjoy playing meaningful games,” Cole said. “There’s a lot going on today. And it’s a bit challenging to get focused for the game, but once you’re there, it was kind of business as usual.
“So I try to keep that mindset all the time. I think it’s helpful when there’s a little bit more on the line.”
Cole said he handed off the union duties to Zack Britton, who is on the injured list, before his start Wednesday.
The Yankees have been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak that has left three coaches and four support staffers with confirmed breakthrough cases after having been vaccinated. It hit even closer to the players on Wednesday when shortstop Gleyber Torres was held out of the game “out of an abundance of caution,” while the MLB/MLBPA joint committee reviewed his test results.
Cole said he’s taking more precautions to try to keep others safe, and said he is encouraged that six out of the seven are showing no symptoms.
Still, it’s been draining.
“The training staff is just so stressed. So stretched thin. They’re like our heroes right now, somehow holding the glue together between the logistics. . . scheduling rapid tests, trying to get people ready to play. It’s like they’re kind of the MVPs for us right now . . . and the guys in the trenches for us,” Cole said. “And then, you know, this transition, flipping the switch from those emotions to go onto the field, I think, initially you’re not quite certain that you can do it. But, once we were out there, it was probably the most normal part of our day, just over the last three or four days.”
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