Gerrit Cole’s wild-card disaster sparks Yankees question

BOSTON — Well, that’s gonna leave a mark.

What an absolutely brutal way for Gerrit Cole to end his season. The Yankees’ season.

And now among the many clouds that will hover over Major League Baseball’s most storied franchise until next October, you can add this one: Can Cole still be counted on to justify his huge contract and lead the Yankees all the way back to the Canyon of Heroes?

The 2021 Yankees’ roller-coaster ride ended with a crash Tuesday night, the team falling meekly to the Red Sox, 6-2, in the American League wild-card game at Fenway Park, their historic rivals advancing to the AL Division Series against the Rays as Cole picked up only six outs while facing 12 batters, a sorry performance in such a big game set to the tune of Red Sox fans taunting, “Gerr-it!” as he gave up three runs on four hits, including a pair of homers, and two walks.

For the Bosox to prevail despite treating this year as a de facto rebuild, for the rival Rays to skip right past this nail-biter despite spending just over one-third of the Yankees’ payroll, for the Yankees to not earn themselves a single postseason home game … it constitutes many mouthfuls of bitterness for the Yankees and their demanding fan base, now having clocked 12 seasons without a World Series visit, to swallow.

Ironically, manager on the griddle Aaron Boone distinguished himself by, of all things, quickly pulling Cole when it was clear the $324 million man once again didn’t possess anything approaching his best stuff. It was Boone’s handpicked third-base coach Phil Nevin who goofed the most with his sixth-inning send of Aaron Judge on Giancarlo Stanton’s one-out blast off the Green Monster. The Red Sox easily nailed Judge at home, halting the visitors’ momentum after they had broken Nathan Eovaldi’s shutout on Anthony Rizzo’s solo homer, and that proved to be that.

Gerrit Cole watches from the dugout after being removed from the third inning of the AL wild-card game.
Gerrit Cole watches from the dugout after being removed from the third inning of the AL wild-card game.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Which brings us back to Cole, long gone by the time all this business transpired, 1-2 with an 8.24 ERA over only 19 ²/₃ innings in his last four starts.

Did he simply never recover sufficiently from the left hamstring injury that felled him on September 7? Was he exhausted from the 2021 grind that featured a leap from 60 games to 162 and a case of COVID in addition to the hamstring ailment? Did the crackdown on sticky stuff do him in? Did he actually feel pressure in these big spots despite plenty of experience and success in other big spots, including in a Yankees uniform this year and last?

These questions and more are coming to Cole’s world and not departing anytime soon. The Yankees face many, many questions about where to go from here, Boone’s contract up and Brian Cashman’s featuring one more year. Their ultimate downfall notwithstanding, their pitching staff actually made some progress this season; young pitching coach Matt Blake should return.

Xander Bogaerts rounds the bases after his two-run home run off Gerrit Cole.
Xander Bogaerts rounds the bases after his two-run home run off Gerrit Cole.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Yet the model still calls for Cole to lead the way, and while his overall regular-season numbers (a 3.23 ERA and 243 strikeouts in 30 starts) should be good enough to land him as high as second place in the AL Cy Young Award voting behind Toronto’s Robbie Ray, there’s no ignoring that he posted a 2.68 ERA before the All-Star break and a 4.41 after it, including this stinker. (Yes, go ahead and wonder also how much his final appearance before the break, his 129-pitch masterpiece over the Astros in Houston on July 10, affected him the rest of the way.)

In February 2020, as Cole prepared for his first Yankees spring training, Hal Steinbrenner told The Post, “He’s young. He’s healthy. Nine years, I expect we’re going to win some championships.”

Two years down and no championships, this season ending sooner than last, and this time Cole must take a healthy share of blame. Whatever the reason, he couldn’t come through when his team needed him the most.

He surely won’t forget this night. Yankees fans definitely won’t. Among the many items on Cole’s pinstriped to-do list, he must now add redemption.

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