KANSAS CITY — After a night in which it rolled to a double-digit win, the Yankees’ lineup came back down to earth a bit Saturday. The Yanks scattered eight hits and tallied three runs without homering, a far cry from their Friday showing in which they matched their season high of 12 runs and cleared the fences four times.
Three runs was more than enough support for Cole, as he struck out six over six masterful innings and was backed up by the bullpen to help New York blank Kansas City, 3-0, at Kauffman Stadium. It marked the Yanks’ eighth straight win and their 10th victory in the past 11 games.
It also marked Cole’s second straight scoreless start, as he’s racked up 15 strikeouts across 12 2/3 innings over the past week. His recent efforts have him looking more like the pitcher New York knows him to be and not the one he was at the beginning of the year, when he had a 6.35 ERA through three outings.
Cole was excellent throughout Saturday night, but he stepped up and was especially sharp at a few key junctures. At times when the fate of the game could’ve easily swung in Kansas City’s favor, he bore down and made the pitches he needed to keep New York ahead.
“That’s what he does,” Yankees catcher Jose Trevino said. “He’s an ace for a reason.”
The first big spot Cole encountered came in the third inning, when with two outs and a runner on first, he issued back-to-back four-pitch walks to Whit Merrifield and Andrew Benintendi. That loaded the bases for Salvador Perez, who has more than his fair share of big hits in this ballpark.
With the chance of the Yankees’ lead disappearing with one swing, a mound visit was summoned. Cole was naturally a bit frustrated with himself after handing out the two free passes, but he and those around him remained confident they’d find their way out of the situation unscathed.
“It was a bit of a self-inflicted jam there,” Cole said. “I think Josh [Donaldson] just told me, ‘We’re just one pitch away.’”
Cole took him literally, it turns out. After failing to induce a swing over his previous eight pitches, he dropped a 92.5 mph cutter down and away to Perez, who meekly rolled a grounder to shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa for the final out of the inning.
The cutter isn’t something Cole leans on too often — it’s his third-most used pitch out of five, according to Statcast — but when he does, it can be exactly what’s needed.
“It’s huge,” Trevino said. “If guys are going to be sitting on the fastball, you’ve got a little horizontal movement to it and it’s good. It goes just right off the end of the bat, like you saw with Salvy in that inning, just right off the barrel.”
Another key situation unfolded in the sixth, when Cole gave up a single to Carlos Santana and a double to Hunter Dozier to bring the potential tying run to the plate with one out. Cole threw three cutters in a six-pitch battle with Bobby Witt Jr., but the right-hander went back to his four-seam fastball to get the rookie looking at strike three for the second out.
Kyle Isbel stepped in next and worked the count to 3-2 after fouling off another cutter. But just as Cole did before to Witt, he went to his bread-and-butter fastball and caught Isbel looking to end the inning and his outing.
“On a night it wasn’t necessarily perfect, he was at his best in the biggest moments,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
As the season rolls on, wins like these will be just as important as blowout victories like the one from Friday night. Being able to string together timely hits and make big pitches in critical situations is a dependable winning formula, especially once you get to October — something the Yankees have every intention of doing.
“If you want to be a complete team, and a really good one, you’ve got to win games at times in different ways,” Boone said. “Another really good team win.”
And while Cole is plenty glad to be turning things around on an individual level, he’s most pleased with the team’s results rather than any personal stat line.
“We’re winning now, so that’s all we’re focused on,” Cole said.