SAN DIEGO – Aaron Boone, the Yankees coach, was settling into the visiting coach’s office at Petco Park on Thursday – hours before the team’s 4 do-or-die game in the American League Division Series v Tampa Bay Rays – when pitcher Gerrit Cole walked by.
Boone said he stopped Cole, the team ace, and his two eyes closed. Before more could be said about Cole that he could start a short rest for the first time in his career the next day, Boone said that Cole said, “Just give me the ball.”
Thanks to a 5-1 win over seeded Rays later in the day, fifth-seeded Yankees can do exactly this Friday ̵
“You always want to be out there in the big moment,” said Cole, who the Yankees have signed to a record $ 324 million nine-year deal with October glory in mind. “Both teams would have liked to win this series before Game 5, but, hey, we’re here and it’s part of the path we want to eventually get to.”
The Yankees pulled their season back from the brink on Thursday thanks to four strong innings from Jordan Montgomery, their fifth-best starting pitcher; five goalless innings by their three most talented relievers, Chad Green, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman; and the home runs of Luke Voit and Gleyber Torres.
It was the Yankees’ best overall performance since Monday’s first game, when Cole led them to victory with six solid innings. Gets a second hit against the Rays, but this time in just three days off.
“If we’re going to have someone out there, I want it to be him,” Montgomery said of Cole.
With the Rays fielding an opening, Ryan Thompson, in Game 4, the Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the second inning with a solo blast from Voit, who led the major leagues with 22 home runs during the regular season. but he didn’t have his playoff career until Thursday – and then a sacrifice from DJ LeMahieu.
“We needed that fiery ‘Get the kids going’ tonight,” Voit said. “I knew I had to take a step forward. I’ve been pretty awful this series. “
Montgomery, who was eagerly awaiting his first post-season career start, had trouble in the third and fourth inning, but managed to escape with just one groundout run by Brandon Lowe with bases loaded.
“I would have liked 30,000 fans to be in the stands,” said Montgomery, who was making his first start since Sept. 24. “But with the season coming up, this team has more struggle.”
The Yankees turned away from the Rays in the sixth inning when Torres smashed a 410-foot ball into the upper deck of the Western Metal Supply Co. building which is part of the Petco Park left court. Torres’ double pass, 23, gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead. The only youngest Yankee to hit a home run in a post-season elimination match was Mickey Mantle, then 20, during the 1952 World Series.
“We were really confident tonight,” Torres said. “We have never felt panic.”
Prepared to return to the bullpen soon if Montgomery was in trouble, Boone put together the last five innings with two of Green, one and two thirds of Britton and one and one third of Chapman. All of these rescuers could be called again on Friday, as the Yankees hope to get 27 outs from their best pitchers with the season in the balance.
“We knew it was going to be a crazy, suspenseful series,” Voit said. “We are ready for the challenge, whatever happens.”
Asked how the Yankees felt during Game 5, the ever-outspoken Voit said, “We’ll win it.”
Boone was more underestimated: “To be able to pass the ball to probably the best pitcher in the game, there’s comfort in that.”
From the first game, Cole said, he had been preparing to start the fifth game, if there was one, and he didn’t need anyone to tell him to. But he said Boone smiled at him after Game 4 was over and told him he would officially start the next day.
The rays will counter, at least initially, with Tyler Glasnow, who is pitching on an even shorter rest than Cole after knocking out 10 Yankees in five innings in a 7-5 game 2 win on Tuesday.
Cole said he spoke to pitchers who had started short-term playoffs in the past, such as former Yankee C.C. Justin Verlander, former teammate of Sabathia and Cole’s Astros. Although he has made minor changes to his routine over the past few days, Cole said he has recovered well since Monday.
“When the light comes on, it doesn’t matter if it’s three, four, five, six or seven days,” he said. “You have to do your job.”