ATLANTA — The streak, low-calorie as it was, really couldn’t have picked a worse time to stop. Because the Yankees really needed Gerrit Cole to serve his role as stopper on Wednesday afternoon.
Alas, Cole’s first regular-season loss in more than a year didn’t really condemn him as much as it reminded us that pitcher wins and losses are team wins and losses. And the Yankees, as a team, sure as heck didn’t deserve to win their return to action.
The final score was Braves 5, Yankees 1 at Truist Park, the opener of this doubleheader and the Yankees’ first competition in six days, and it really didn’t feel that close. Ian Anderson, the third-overall choice of the 2016 amateur draft and an Albany-area native, registered one heck of a big-league debut, holding the Yankees hitless until Luke Voit poked a sixth-inning, one-out solo homer — his fifth consecutive day going deep — then recorded two more outs to make mincemeat out of the Yankees’ diminished lineup.
And with Cole, the first-overall choice of the 2011 amateur draft, allowing three homers and four runs in the first three innings (the Braves scored a garbage-time run in the sixth), this proved the wrong contest to embolden a newbie.
The Yankees’ season-worst losing streak extended to five games after falling 2-1, and seeing Aaron Judge exit early in his first game of the injured list.
“I definitely went out there with the mentality to set the tone for the day,” Cole said. “I definitely would’ve liked to step up today but just didn’t do it.”
“A couple of pitches back, and it’s very much a dominant outing,” Aaron Boone said of his ace.
Well, sure. Two of Cole’s pitches — a first-inning fastball to Braves leadoff man Ronald Acuna Jr. (473 feet) and a third-inning curveball to Marcell Ozuna (469 feet) — traveled a total of 942 feet. Those both went a long way for a solo run, and two batters before Ozuna’s blast to center field, shortstop Dansby Swanson (a first-overall pick like Cole, in 2015) went the other way on a slider for a two-run dinger. Boone’s supportive comments carried some support in the nine strikeouts against two walks that Cole registered over his five-plus innings of work.
“It seemed to be a little bit feast or famine,” said Cole, who credited the Braves’ hitters for outthinking him and his batterymate Gary Sanchez, exhibiting patience when he anticipated aggressiveness and vice versa.
“You’re not stringing hits together typically against great pitchers. You’ve got to take advantage of when you do get a mistake,” said Boone, repeating the logic he offers whenever folks accuse the Yankees of relying too much on home runs. “One thing good teams like Atlanta that can swing the bats, when you’re facing an ace and a pitcher the caliber like Cole, you’re a little more inclined to sell out some things and look in particular areas, because you know you’re typically not going to get three to four hits in an inning.
“You’ve got to control the zone, and when you do get a pitch you can do some damage with, you can’t miss it. They did a good job with that today.”
Hence they halted the streak that generated much attention, old-school as it might have been. The right-hander had won 20 consecutive decisions over a stretch of 28 starts, his most recent regular-season loss coming on May 22, 2019. Amidst that, he lost Game 1 of last year’s World Series while winning his other four postseason starts.
In his past 34 starts, counting both the regular season and playoffs, Cole has allowed five runs just twice — the two times he lost. Quite a run, one he’ll try to pick up in his next start, a big one, opening a series Monday night against the rival Rays.
“I would like to make as big an impact as I can each time I get the ball,” Cole said. “That mindset doesn’t change.”
The results had best revert to normal, to what he exhibited during his streak, for the Yankees to be their best.