Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, Marine’s ‘tired act’ and ace feeling it more than ever

June 20, 2023;  Bronx, New York, USA;  New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) reacts during the seventh inning against the Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium.
June 20, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) reacts during the seventh inning against the Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium. / Brad Penner – USA TODAY Sports

Gerrit Cole had a great season last year, he really did, but there were some weird days too. The weirdest could have been August 3, 2022, here at Yankee Stadium against the Seattle Mariners.

That afternoon, Cole allowed six runs and three homers in the first inning. A few hours later, I stayed with him until the clubhouse was empty, and most of the teammates had dressed and packed for a road trip. Cole hadn’t even showered yet; he was stuck regretting his pitch selections.

Tuesday night, in a different year but at the same stadium and against the same team, Cole was feeling it. The Yankees beat the Mariners, 3-1, and Cole pitched the eighth inning, allowed a run, sent a deliberate pitch to the backstop and waved his finger at the opposing manager.

He also improved to 7-0 this season following a loss to the Yankees – and this time it was actually four losses, a streak that caused the general manager to leave his office before the game. for a state of the team address intended to calm an agitated fan. base.

The reasons for Cole’s success were familiar: he worked with the catcher Jose Trevino to spot a mid-to-high 90s fastball across the entire sweetspot, and mixed with high-end sliders, cutters and curves.

More interesting that night were his responses to the Mariners second baseman Jose Caballero and manager Scott Servais. These showed how Cole is becoming more and more comfortable as a Yankees ace.

All night, Caballero annoyed Cole and the Yanks with an attempted pitch clock manipulation. The way the team saw it, according to a source, was Caballero trying to trick Cole into a violation by looking at him, then not looking at him, as the eight-second time limit to face the pitcher approached.

If a pitcher begins his wind-up before the batter pays attention and with eight or more seconds remaining, he is charged with an automatic ball. The Yankees believed Caballero was trying to get Cole to do it by not specifying if he was ready.

“It’s a tired act,” said a Yankee.

With a 0-2 count on Caballero and two out in the seventh inning, Cole sent a fastball to the backstop and then glared at the batter. “Sometimes a high fastball can be a really effective throw,” Cole said later. “I have to change the eye level.”

Cole hit Caballero 3-2, glared again as he walked off the mound, then paused to throw the gesture that will live on in meme and gif form for as long as this fragile planet can sustain human life: He wrinkled his face, hugged his shoulders tighter to his ears and waved his finger at the Mariners.

After the match, Cole revealed he wasn’t pointing at Caballero. He was returning the service to the Seattle manager Scott Servais.

“Their manager had some choice words for me coming off the pitch and he was waving his finger at me, so I waved my finger at him,” Cole said. “It’s the first time an opposing coach has pointed the finger at me.”

It was good theater, but it seemed that these events also held a clue to a deeper meaning: Cole felt more confident than ever to let his personality run wild.

After the post-game scrum of reporters dispersed, I followed Cole to his locker and mentioned that the throwing and finger movement seemed to represent a more confident version of him.

In years past, Cole has made a mark of never responding in public to public insults. In 2021, I reminded him, then opponent Josh Donaldson singled him out for using sticky stuff, a widespread problem among pitchers at the time.

In 2022, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Alek Manoah stung Judge Aaron. The judge took offense and Cole got out of the dugout to bark at Manoah. Later, Manoah referenced an advertisement painted on the grass in foul territory, saying, “Go past the Audi sign next time.”

On no occasion did Cole take the bait.

But on that night in June 2023, Cole went right after Caballero with a salty pitch, then turned on Servais — both with his body language in the moment and with his comments to the media afterwards.

That seemed to be the intangible part of the change that led Cole to an 8-1 record, 2.64 ERA and undisputed stopper status. It’s different from being an extremely talented ace whose odd moments and days have spiraled out of control and defined even his own attempts at explanation.

I asked Cole if the events of the night were proof that he felt like himself.

“Yeah, I don’t know how I feel myself,” he said.

Ok, weird sentence.

“But I think you know what I’m talking about,” I said.

“Yeah,” Cole said.

Then he added: “Hopefully I will continue to mature and settle down.”

Settle. That’s what Cole does. In his fourth year with the Yankees, he lost that big contract pressure, acted less cautiously, and let his business tear itself apart.

If you wave your finger at this version of Cole, he’ll wave his right back.

And if the Yankees lost the day before, he’ll probably beat you too.

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