The Yankees signed Gerrit Cole for nine years and $324 million after he left the Astros as a free agent following the 2019 season, signed him to do what CC Sabathia did when the Yankees signed him as a free agent a decade earlier:
1. Be the kind of true and dominating ace CC had been in the Bronx.
2. Pitch the Yankees all the way downtown to the Canyon of Heroes the way CC did in 2009.
Gerrit Cole has absolutely been that kind of ace, in spades, since putting on the famous Yankee pinstripes, and now he might finally win the Cy Young Award that has eluded him for his entire career as a power pitcher in the big leagues. Cole, who has finished second twice in the Cy Young voting (2019 and ’21) and in the top five three other times (’15, ’18, ’20), has been everything the Yankees have hoped for, delivered for them every five days for four seasons now, more this season than ever before.
What Cole has not done in New York is not carry the Yankees all the way through October the way CC did in ‘09. But that has not been his fault. He continues to hold up his end. And this season, one that saw the Yankees coming into a big August series with a sub-.500 record, he has not just been his team’s best starter, by far, he has been their MVP.
Aaron Judge came into the weekend having played just 67 of the Yankees’ 121 games, mostly because of the toe injury he suffered against the Dodgers on the first Saturday night in June. Gerrit Cole, however, has been there for their team every fifth day. He came into the weekend with a 10-3 record and a 2.76 ERA. It is not Cole who has let the Yankees’ offense down. It is the other way around. It is one of the reasons why he has 12 no-decisions in his 25 starts this season.
And even when the Yankee hitters have produced for him, the way they did last Sunday against the Marlins in Miami, it was the bullpen who could not hold the 7-2 lead the Yankees had when Cole left the game. Clay Holmes blew up in the bottom of the ninth and the Marlins came all the way back and finally won, 8-7. Cole did not have his best stuff in Miami. He still had enough to pitch six innings and give up two runs and strike out six. It should easily have been win No. 11 for him. It turned out to be no-decision No. 12 instead.
This couldn’t possibly have been the way he thought things would go in New York. There is no question that he’s had his shots at October with the Yankees, mostly pitched well when he got there, the glaring exception being when the Red Sox lit him up early in a Wild Card game at Fenway Park two years ago.
Last year he beat the Guardians twice in a five-game division series before losing Game 3 to his old team, the Astros, in the ALCS. Cole gave up five hits and three earned runs in five-plus innings in that one, but nothing he was going to do mattered after the Astros jumped ahead, 2-0, because the Yankees were on their way to being shut out.
Now the Cole and the Yankees have the last quarter of the regular season to try to turn everything around, despite only having won one series — against the Royals — since July 1. They try to start turning things around against the Red Sox after a three-game series against the Braves when they scored three runs in the first game and didn’t score after that, getting one-hit in the second game of the series along the way.
Again: This isn’t the kind of Yankee season, at least so far, Cole saw coming when he signed that big contract and brought along the sign he’d held up as a kid at the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and D-dbacks, one that read: “YANKEE FAN TODAY TOMORROW FOREVER.”
Here is what Cole said at his introductory press conference at Yankee Stadium, one week before Christmas in 2019:
“I would just like to say, I’m here. I’ve always been here. Because it was my dream. I had a second opportunity to chase it and it’s the best organization, in my opinion, in the league.”
Since then, he has been the same kind of horse that Sabathia was. Across his first 100 starts with the Yankees, as Forbes pointed out the other day, he really has been a right-handed Sabathia, with the exception of the no-decisions. CC had 18 in his first 100 Yankee starts. Cole, with his 46-22 lifetime record in New York, has had 32. That means one-third of the games he has pitched in pinstripes.
He struck out more batters last season than any Yankee pitcher ever had. Only Sandy Alcantara has pitched more innings than Cole has since joining the Yankees. Cole really ought to win the AL Cy Young Award. He has accepted all the responsibilities of his contract, the stage he’s on, the storied team for whom he’s pitching. He has held up his end.
More than anything, the Yankees hired him to be great. He’s been great.