Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images
Some of the best pitchers in baseball have shrunk under the pressure in their first start of the 2022 postseason.
Not Gerrit Cole.
In his first playoff appearance at Yankee Stadium as a member of the Yankees, the $326-million-man lived up to his billing as the ace of the staff, making just one real mistake when he allowed a solo home run to Steven Kwan in the top of the third inning.
He went on to load the bases after the Kwan homer, but buckled down from there to avoid further trouble. He ultimately retired 12 of the next 13 batters he faced after the Guardians loaded the bases in the third, exiting with one out in the seventh inning after a single from Myles Straw.
His walk off the field was met with a loud ovation from the home crowd, and his dominance in those middle innings made a 4-1 deficit feel much bigger for a Cleveland team that was effectively silenced.
Now, while several other teams have been left scrambling when their ace was knocked around in his opening start, the Yankees are exactly where they hoped to be after handing the ball to their guy in Game 1.
For Cole, it was redemption after last year’s postseason debacle.
Cole Erases the Memory of Last Year’s Wild Card Game
In seven postseason starts with the Houston Astros, Cole went 5-2 with a 2.17 ERA and 0.87 WHIP with 64 strikeouts in 49.2 innings. That included seven shutout innings at Yankee Stadium in Game 3 of the 2019 ALCS.
He also won a pair of starts in his first postseason with the Yankees in 2020, but none of that was on the mind of Yankees fans heading into the 2022 playoffs.
The memory at the forefront of their minds was his early exit in last year’s Wild Card Game against the rival Boston Red Sox, when he allowed four hits, two walks and three earned runs in two innings to take the loss in the win-or-go-home elimination game.
Expectations are always going to be high when you’re pulling in a $36 million salary, and that simply didn’t cut it.
Fast forward to Tuesday night and Cole was every bit the ace that was promised when he signed that massive contract. The fans rightfully recognized his performance with a hearty ovation.
Yankees Videos @snyyankees
Gerrit Cole on the ovation he got walking off the mound in the 7th inning tonight:
“It was very special for me” pic.twitter.com/hPbKRpQ1Fj
Cole’s final line: W, 6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K
Struggling Aces Have Been a Series-Changing Trend
Max Fried (David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Things have not gone as smoothly for a number of other aces.
One of the biggest surprises of the Wild Card Round was an ugly Game 1 start from New York Mets co-ace Max Scherzer.
The 37-year-old allowed seven hits—four of which left the ballpark—and seven earned runs in 4.2 innings. The Mets lost the game and the series, as their 101-win season met a disappointing end at the hands of the 89-win San Diego Padres.
Likewise, Toronto Blue Jays breakout ace Alek Manoah was far from sharp in his postseason debut. He allowed four earned runs in 5.2 innings to take the loss in Game 1 of their series against the Seattle Mariners.
The burly 6’6″, 285-pound right-hander failed to complete six innings just six times in 31 starts during the regular season, while also allowing four or more earned runs only four different times. His team also went on to lose their series.
The trend continued on Tuesday with poor outings from AL Cy Young front-runner Justin Verlander (4.0 IP, 10 H, 6 ER) and Atlanta Braves ace Max Fried (3.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER) in their respective Game 1 starts.
The Houston Astros came from behind to pull out a victory thanks to a walk-off home run from Yordan Álvarez, and even if they had lost they have a bit more flexibility thanks to a deep and talented rotation.
The Braves are in trouble, though.
The Philadelphia Phillies stole a win with Ranger Suárez on the mound against Atlanta’s ace, and now they have Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola lined up to start Game 2 and Game 3 against Kyle Wright and either a struggling Charlie Morton or a potentially limited Spencer Strider.
That’s how quickly the outlook of a series can shift when your ace lays an egg.
What’s Next for the Yankees vs. Guardians?
Nestor Cortés (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
The Yankees will now turn to Nestor Cortes (28 GS, 12-4, 2.44 ERA, 158.1 IP) and Luis Severino (19 GS, 7-3, 3.18 ERA, 102.0 IP) to counter Cleveland’s terrific one-two punch of Shane Bieber (7.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 8 K in Game 1 of WCS) and Triston McKenzie (6.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 8 K in Game 2 of WCS) in the next two games of the series.
If the Guardians had pulled out a win against Cole with No. 3 starter Cal Quantrill on the mound, they would have jumped into the driver’s seat.
Instead, Cole did his job as the staff ace, and because of it the Yankees have the upper hand heading into Game 2.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.
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