Gerrit Cole had something to prove.
The memory of Cole’s performance in last season’s Wild Card loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park was in the back of the minds of many Yankee fans and maybe even in the back of Cole’s mind as he took the mound. There was no denying that the Yankee fans were expecting redemption in the first home playoff game since 2019.
Cole gave them that redemption as he tossed 6 1/3 solid innings to get the win in a 4-1 victory over the Cleveland Guardians in game one of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium last night.
The Yankee ace gave up a run on four hits with one walk and eight strikeouts and was helped by a solid Yankee defense, but he ran into trouble in the third inning and seemed ready to unravel.
With one out, Guardians rookie Steven Kwan unloaded on a four seam, 96 MPH fastball and drove it into the right field stands for a solo home run and a 1-0 Cleveland lead.
After Cole hit Amed Rosario with a 2-2 pitch, Jose Ramirez doubled into the gap in left center field. Yankee centerfielder Harrison Bader was able to cut the ball off and prevent a run from scoring and that proved to be a huge play.
Here’s where things got a little hairy. Josh Naylor hit a ground ball to Anthony Rizzo at first. Rosario broke for the plate, but Rizzo committed too early and threw home. That allowed Rosario to get back safely to third as Naylor reached first to load the bases.
Down the stretch, Cole had allowed innings to get away but this time he did not wilt. Oscar Gonzalez grounded to third and Josh Donaldson was able to force Rosario at home and then Cole snuffed out the rally in style as he fanned Andres Gimenez on a 2-2 slider.
Cole cruised from there as he allowed just a walk and a single before being lifted with one out in the seventh.
The Yankees only had five hits but they made them count.
Bader made his first Yankee playoff at bat a memorable one as he tied the game with a solo home run into the left field seats on a 3-2 pitch from Guardians starting and losing pitcher Cal Quantrill. “Obviously, a big home run there to get it started,” Yankee Manager Aaron Boone said.
Bader is a local kid who sat in the stands during the Yankees run to the 2009 World Series. “It was everything I expected it to be. I prepared myself for it mentally,” he said about his first Yankee playoff game in uniform. “It’s an atmosphere that I’m very familiar with. I do understand what it means to be successful here and I do understand the mental side.”
The Yankees took their first lead in the fifth.
Josh Donaldson led off the inning with a drive down the right field line that appeared to be a home run, but it bounced off the top of the wall and stayed in play. Donaldson, who has failed to hustle at various times throughout the season, thought he had a home run, but he was caught in between first and second and was thrown out trying to get back to first.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa picked up his teammate by lining a one out single down the right field line but ended up at third when Gonzalez had trouble handling the carom along the wall. On an 0-2 pitch, Jose Trevino hit a deep fly ball to center field to snap the 1-1 tie and score Kiner-Falefa with the go ahead run.
In the sixth, Aaron Judge led off with a walk, stole second and moved to third on a throwing error by Guardians catcher Austin Hedges. Rizzo drove home Judge with a two run home run into the right field stands as the Yankees took a 4-1 lead.
After Cole gave up a one out single in the seventh to Myles Straw, he was lifted in favor of Jonathan Loaisiga. The sell out crowd of 47,807 gave Cole a huge ovation as he left the mound. “It was very special for me,” Cole said. “The game’s not over, you left with traffic, it’s not the most comfortable time to acknowledge the crowd but certainly felt it and appreciated it. I thought they were in every pitch tonight. What a wonderful experience to have them behind us.”
Kwan singled off Loaisiga to put two runners on but the Yankee reliever induced a double play ball from Rosario to end the threat.
Ramirez led off the eighth with a hard single to right to end Loaisiga’s night. Boone went to left hander Wandy Peralta to face the left hand hitting Naylor who hit into a 3-3-5 double play. Peralta then struck out Gonzalez to keep the three run lead.
Peralta got the first out of the ninth and Boone went to Clay Holmes in a non save situation. Holmes hit pinch-hitter Owen Miller but got pinch-hitter Will Benson on a grounder to first and Myles Straw on a fly out to center as the Yankees nailed down game one.
From first pitch, the crowd was electric and the players fed off that. “The energy of the fans, it was just amazing,” Bader said. “When you have such an incredible fan base, fans that are just rabid and want to win as badly as Yankee fans do, it’s almost like you’re playing with them on the field.”
So the Yankees draw first blood but there’s still work to be done against a scrappy Guardians team that Rizzo warns not to take lightly.
“The Guardians are a young team that has a lot of momentum that has been pitching very well and playing very well, so that’s a scary combination, with them coming in after a big Wild Card series win, so it feels really good to come out and get game one,” Rizzo said.