Gerrit Cole had plenty of reasons to be excited.
He was pitching in his first true Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, very different than the one he pitched in last year – this one had fans, wasn’t postponed by COVID-19, and is set to kick off a 162-game season. His dad, a lifelong Yankees fan, like him, was in the stands, and so were other family members he hasn’t been able to see too much since this pandemic started. And, by most measures, his outing was good, and at times, very good.
He pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits, with two walks and eight strikeouts. He threw 97 pitches, 62 for strikes and left with the no-decision. But when the cameras panned to the dugout after he was pulled from the game, it was a different story: Cole, slamming his glove over and over in spilled-over frustration.
All because of that slider.
OK, fine. There were other pitches he wasn’t too jazzed about, either, but it was one slider – to Teoscar Hernandez with one out in the sixth, that put the damper on a day six months in the making. Hernandez’s solo homer tied the game and eventually helped lead the Blue Jays to a 3-2, 10-inning win. He walked Vladimir Guerrero Jr. next to end his afternoon.
“I just want that slider back,” Cole said. “It was just such a bad pitch and then I got into a hole against Vladdy, who worked it well. Last fastball was not totally competitive, and I didn’t even pressure him so, you know, I just wanted to finish a little better and to have held the lead there.”
Cole’s slider was mercurial throughout an otherwise gritty outing. It got him in trouble in the second, when Lourdes Gurriel Jr. singled to drive in Hernandez to give the Blue Jays the early lead. Cole was able to retire the bottom of the order, striking out two, to dance around further damage. Trouble with the pitch meant that Cole had to turn more to his changeup – a pitch he didn’t throw once in his Opening Day start last year – in the hopes that guile would get him where dominance sometimes couldn’t.
“I thought (the changeup) was a good offering in some situations where we could be a bit unpredictable and there was a bit of hit and miss with the slider today,” Cole said. “There were some really good (sliders) and then some poor ones. I got away with a few until Teoscar, so I thought the changeup was a good mix there in some situations where we may have normally leaned on something like the slider but wasn’t totally executing it. It bought us a couple strikes.”
On the bright side, Cole seemed to have some good chemistry with Gary Sanchez, though it appeared he previously preferred Kyle Higashioka behind the plate. And Aaron Boone said he saw plenty of the greatness that’s made Cole the Yankees ace last season.
“I thought Gerrit threw well,” Boone said. “I really did. I thought they put together some tough at-bats against him…I thought his fastball was really good, I thought he executed the changeup really well, even a handful of right-on-right changeups that were good.”
And despite the disappointment, it can’t totally erase the magic of Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, and of seeing fans for the first time in a year and a half. The crowd, though limited to 10,850 due to COVID restrictions, was boisterous – like they were trying to pack 40,000 people worth of noise in a neat little package.
“It’s a lot different just to feel the energy of the people in the park,” Cole said. “It was welcome. Family being here, certainly after not being able to see them much last year means a lot. It was quite cold early but it shaped up to be a pretty pleasant day for the most part outside of the loss. It was OK. I would have liked to have gotten a win, though.”