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Gerrit Cole ended any talk he needs foreign substances to pitch well by shutting down the Houston Astros on Saturday
A nine-ounce container of Spider Tack can be bought online for around $30. For a growing legion of Gerrit Cole naysayers, doubters, and cynics, the cost is precisely $324 million.
Since Major League Baseball started cracking down on pitchers using illegal sticky substances in June, Cole had gone from the heights of perennial Cy Young Award candidate to the depths of mediocrity. His ERA had risen from 1.78 in his first 11 starts this season to 5.24 in six games since June 3. Cole had given up nine earned runs in 8.1 innings over his last two starts; his last outing was his worst in a Yankees uniform as he lasted just 3.1 innings giving up four runs to the Mets on Independence Day.
Cole had become the face of the controversy. He didn’t help himself with his evasive answer on whether he had ever used the now-infamous Spider Tack, or the fact that his spin rates—a telling sign of whether a pitcher is using illegal substances—had gone way down in the last month. To his critics, it seemed like the Yankees had invested $324 million in a pitcher who wasn’t what he seemed.
Until Saturday night, when Cole returned to his former home Minute Maid Park and faced his former teammates on the Houston Astros. Cole pitched a complete-game shutout, giving up only three hits while striking out 12. Shutting down the league’s best offense—the Astros came into the game leading the league in batting average, runs scored, and fewest strikeouts—not only gave the Yankees a much-needed 1-0 win as they try to keep pace in the AL Wild Card race, it should end any further talk of Spider Tack or sticky substances.
Cole was already at a season-high 112 pitches when he came out for the bottom of the ninth. He did what elite starters are supposed to do, get stronger at the end of the game. Of the 17 pitches he threw in the inning, 12 were at least 98 mph. The only other starters to throw a pitch at least 99 mph in the ninth inning this season were Sandy Alcantara (two) and Jacob deGrom (three); Cole threw nine on Saturday.
With Jose Altuve standing on first base following a leadoff single and representing the tying run, Cole got Michael Brantley to fly out. Yuli Gurriel went down on three straight strikes (Cole was helped out by home plate umpire Cory Blaser calling Gurriel out on a questionable swing call). Now at 126 pitches and closer Aroldis Chapman ready in the bullpen, manager Aaron Boone came to the mound. Surrounded by the Yankees infielders and catcher Kyle Higashioka, Cole vehemently made his case why he should stay in. It seemed to work, for Boone went back to the dugout while Cole remained on the field.
“A few expletives and, ‘Let’s go punch him out,’” Cole told Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal following the game about what he and Boone talked about.
Yankees: Gerrit Cole dug down deep for final encounter with Yordan Alvarez
Cole put his hands on his knees and bent over to the ground, collecting his thoughts for the pivotal at-bat of the game. Pitch one to Astros designated hitter was a 98 mph fastball that was fouled off. Alvarez swung and missed at pitch two, a 99 mph fastball. Pitch three, Cole’s 129th and last of the night, was another 99 mph heater; Alvarez again swung and missed. The game was over and Cole had put in a heroic performance.
“We were just short a little bit,” he said. “I know that other team pretty well and I had seen how they were swinging and what my stuff was doing, so that was it.”
Cole’s performance was a throwback to an era when pitchers finished what they started, regardless of the physical toll it exacted. His 129 pitches are the most thrown by a starting pitcher since Mike Fiers in 2019 and the most by a Yankees pitcher since Hall of Famer Randy Johnson 15 years ago. Cole is the first Yankee to pitch a complete game shutout with at least 12 strikeouts since Mike Mussina on Sept. 24, 2002. Pitchers don’t do what Cole just did that often anymore.
And, thanks to periodic checks by the umpires, he can assure everyone he did it without any foreign help. He was vintage Cole on Saturday, worth every penny the Yankees gave him.