Gerrit Cole didn’t disappoint in his long-anticipated Yankees debut.
Cole finally got to take the mound in a Yankees uniform on Thursday against the Washington Nationals, and he didn’t disappoint. He went five innings, with a first-inning home run by Adam Eaton being the only blemish on an otherwise solid Opening Day outing. A storm began passing through Nationals Park in the top of the sixth inning, putting a premature end to Cole’s debut with the Yankees leading 4-1.
He gave up only the one hit, but at times, Cole wasn’t as dominant as he was last year with the Astros when he struck out 326 batters — the most by a right-hander since 1977 — and led the AL with a 2.50 ERA. Cole struck out five Nationals, snapping his streak of nine straight double-digit strikeout games in the regular season, the longest in history. He didn’t strike out a batter in the fourth inning, ending a run of striking out at least one batter in 65 straight innings that went back to last August. He threw a first-pitch strike to only half of the batters he faced on Thursday.
But there were also signs that Cole is close to being the pitcher the Yankees gave a nine-year, $324 million contract to. He retired 10 straight Nationals between hitting Eric Thames to lead-off the second and walking Asdrubal Cabrera on a 3-2 pitch with one out in the fifth. He’s only the second Yankees pitcher in to go at least five innings on Opening Day and give up only one hit, joining Luis Severino in 2018.
The Yankees were Cole’s childhood team. He still proudly has the sign he carried while in the stands for Game 7 of the 2001 World Series in Arizona. He always wanted to don Yankees pinstripes, and even though he couldn’t have imagined what this 2020 season would be like, he was still experiencing the jitters that come from achieving a dream he’s had since he was a kid.
“I’m stoked. I’m already, like, having trouble sleeping,” he said on Wednesday on the eve of Opening Day. “There’s been so many new things this year, so I’m just going to take it for what it is. I just compare it to no baseball whatsoever so I’m just excited.”
The Nationals lineup that Cole faced on Thursday wasn’t the same one he went up against in the World Series last October. Anthony Rendon is now with the Angels. Juan Soto was scratched earlier on Thursday after testing positive for COVID-19. Ryan Zimmerman opted not to play this season. Soto terrorized Cole in October, going 4-6 with two home runs and four RBI against him in the World Series. Rendon is a career .385 hitter against Cole.
But they’re still the defending World Series champs, playing at home before a nationwide audience that waited 267 days to witness meaningful baseball. They showed how dangerous they could still be in the first inning when Eaton fouled off consecutive two-strike pitches before hitting a 98 mph fastball into the stands in right-field.
Cole settled down from there, and if his play on Thursday is any indication of how he’ll pitch the rest of 2020, the Yankees will be a much better club than they were when they reached the ALCS last season. “It’s been an amazing journey. I’m just blessed to be here,” Cole said on Wednesday.
The Yankees are thankful to have him, too.