This goes down as a bad Yankees loss, Jonathan Loaisiga suffering a rare implosion as the mediocre Royals prevailed, 6-5, Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. It hurt all the more because the Rays and Red Sox going head-to-head down at Tropicana Field meant a Yankees win guaranteed gaining ground on someone (the Rays lost, 9-5) in the American League East.
In the bigger picture — a picture nine years long and $301.3 million wide — we witnessed Gerrit Cole endure his first pair of umpire inspections and live to tell the tale, his lower spin rates (again) notwithstanding.
The Yankees’ ace, a person of interest in the sticky-stuff imbroglio thanks to those recently declining spin rates — which prompted a public accusation by Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson — departed the game as the potential winning pitcher after seven strong innings, as he allowed two runs on three hits and three walks, his six strikeouts marking his seventh straight outing in which he fell short of double-digit Ks. In his three starts since Donaldson fingered him, Cole owns a 2.57 ERA over 21 innings despite striking out “only” 19 against four walks.
“If I had a dollar for how many times the Pirates told me to pitch to contact, I may not have as much money now, but I’d still have quite a bit of money,” Cole said afterward. “That was what was hammered into us growing up. A lot of those fundamentals have never left my game.”
Said Aaron Boone: “Gerrit’s great. He’s going to navigate this. He’s a great pitcher with great stuff, great delivery, all kinds of weapons. So he’ll navigate this.”
If the sticky-stuff scene down in Philadelphia was spectacular, Nationals ace Max Scherzer and Phillies manager Joe Girardi teaming to create a chaotic scene, awkwardness defined the scene here in The Bronx. When Cole finished his work in the first and second innings, he acknowledged afterward, he looked to the officiators with the expectation that he would be examined, only to not be approached. The searches arrived in the third and sixth innings, Cole — like every pitcher so far — being cleared by home plate ump Brian Knight and crew chief Bill Miller.
“I don’t think it’s really a super-comfortable situation for anybody,” Cole said, “but it is what it is, and maybe we’ll get more comfortable with it going forward.”
The same goes for Cole’s actual pitching. With his four-seam fastball averaging 2,289 revolutions per minute, a drop of 245 from his average, and his slider down a nearly identical 243, the right-hander instead kept the ball on the ground, getting his infielders to team for 10 outs, and he still brought out the gas when necessary, concluding his night by getting Nicky Lopez to swing through a 98 mph fastball to strand Royals at first and second in the seventh.
“Right now, if you’re not quite so comfortable locating a pitch at the top of the zone or getting aggressive spinning a pitch through the bottom of the zone or taking a chance over the plate, if there’s maybe a more logical choice you can use to your advantage in terms of using your defense … those are things we’re sometimes targeting because we’ve got to get outs,” Cole said. “And the adjustment may take a little time.”
His relatively smooth adjustment serves as a relief for the 2021 Yankees, yet it hardly propels them to greater things. Once again, they failed miserably with runners in scoring position, going 0-for-10, increasing the stress level for Cole and failing to protect themselves against the uncommon Loaisiga meltdown. Any Cole start that results in a loss has to sting, and that goes double for a start in which Cole pitches well.
One crisis at a time, though. Cole, who registered a viral stumble to a June 8 question from The Post about his Spider Tack usage, has proceeded smoothly since. Imagine, if you dare, how much more perilous the Yankees’ status would be if that hemming and hawing had served as the appetizer to Cole chaos.