When the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole in December to the richest deal in MLB history for a starting pitcher, they had moments like Monday’s Game 1 of the ALDS against the Rays in mind.
In case there was any doubt, Luke Voit erased it.
“We paid him to pitch in October,’’ Voit said Sunday. “It’s a lock, and everyone knows that.”
It might not be quite that simple, but the Yankees have high expectations for these playoffs — and if they are to meet them, Cole will have to live up to his billing.
“We need him to go out there and throw seven or eight strong innings and do what he does best,’’ Voit said. “And he’s got so much experience with that, we expect him to do really well [Monday] night.”
Cole did what he was supposed to do in the wild-card series opener in Cleveland, when he held down the Indians’ lineup, while the Yankees’ offense knocked around AL Cy Young Award favorite Shane Bieber.
The task could be tougher Monday, pitching at Petco Park in San Diego against a Rays team that finished with the best record in the AL, and who will have left-hander Blake Snell on the mound.
But Cole has been here before. Last year, Cole started twice against Tampa Bay in the ALDS while with the Astros, and he allowed just one run and struck out 25 over 15 ²/₃ innings in the two starts.
Cole didn’t think there was much he could take from those performances into Monday’s start, other than to prepare the same way.
His season ended last year with a Game 7 loss to the Nationals in the World Series. Getting so close, he said Sunday at Petco Park, added to his determination to want to win it all.
“I think it’s what drives all of us,’’ Cole said of the desire to win a title. “I have my own motivation in my journey to this point. In the end, both [teams] have to be as motivated as we possibly can to take that trophy down.’’
Despite his 2019 postseason success against the Rays, Cole has not duplicated those results while wearing pinstripes. In three starts this season against Tampa Bay, he struggled to a 4.96 ERA over 16 ¹/₃ innings while surrendering five home runs.
Depending on how the series goes, the right-hander could be asked to pitch on short rest on Friday, in what would be a decisive Game 5.
Aaron Boone, who hadn’t even named a Game 2 starter on Sunday, said that was looking too far ahead — but Cole said it shouldn’t be a problem and that his between-start alterations “should be a manageable adjustment.”
“I typically feel good enough to take the ball on that day, anyway,’’ Cole said. “I wouldn’t have to change too much [of my routine].’’
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