Gerrit Cole was very good in Saturday’s Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
But, continuing a trend that has defined the whole series, the Houston Astros were flat-out better. Cole’s five-plus innings, seven strikeouts and three earned runs don’t read as particularly troublesome, and a night like that is something a manager will gladly take in a playoff game. But in Cole’s eyes, the night came down to a few specific pitches.
“Tonight we made two and a half mistakes,” he said. Cole then detailed the pitch that led to Alex Bregman’s leadoff double in the sixth — the inning where his outing eventually ended with the bases loaded and nobody out — the walk to Kyle Tucker immediately afterward, and the fastball that Chas McCormick hit over the short porch in the second inning.
“The changeup to Bregman that he hit for the double was supposed to be a ball,” Cole explained. “McCormick’s leaked a little more over the plate than we wanted to, and I would have liked the [3-2] curveball to Tucker to be a little more competitive.”
Asked what makes Houston such a harrowing assignment, Cole gave an answer that also sums up the difference between the Yankees and Astros right now.
“Their ability to hit good pitches.”
Cole’s night finished with some light drama, as the Yankees held a mound visit after the walk to Tucker, and when Yuli Gurriel’s subsequent single put runners at every base, a second one made his removal mandatory.
“I was not ready to come out,” Cole said in one of many short postgame answers. “But to my knowledge, the second trip is what it is.”
There was also a slight pause from manager Aaron Boone before he crossed the first base line, which triggered the official mound visit that forced Cole’s exit. Boone said that he paused because he wanted to buy more time for reliever Lou Trivino to get ready.
As for Cole, the tough loss puts his team in a situation where the odds are historically stacked against them. A total of 39 teams in major league history have fallen behind 0-3 in a postseason series. The 2004 Red Sox are still the only one that has come back to win. Knowing that, Cole was in a pretty sour mood while addressing the media following Game 3.
“I’m about as frustrated as you can get.”
Being down 0-3 is the entire tree of Cole’s frustration. The roots are the Astros’ hitters, who have a unique ability to get under a pitcher’s skin by counteracting everything they’re trying to do. Sometimes, they even accept what a pitcher is doing and simply execute better than them. Cole also grabbed a talking point off the shelf that Boone and Luis Severino have gone to during this series, noting that the Astros are getting a little dose of batted ball luck.
“We threw consecutive pitches on the edge all night and they put really good, convicted swings on pitcher’s pitches,” Cole said. “They obviously had a little bit of luck go their way, especially to right field. Top to bottom, that’s what they did all night.”
Pitching in defense of hitters that have been zombie-like all series is no easy task for a pitcher either. That’s what Cole, Severino and Jameson Taillon have had to do in the first three ALCS games. Cole said they knew the hitters would have a tough job against Houston and the starters would have to do everything in their power to help out a Yankee offense that is down horrendously.
“I feel like it’s going to be a tight game against the Astros no matter what,” Cole unwound. “Especially in playoff baseball, it’s always going to come down to a handful of pitches that tips the balance of the game either way. As a pitcher, that balance is often irrelevant to what you’re trying to do out there. There’s a little bit of, like, a motivation factor to try to pitch better and be the guy that picks people up.”
One group that absolutely was not going to provide that pick-me-up on Saturday were the fed up Yankee fans. The stadium started gradually clearing out after the Astros’ put up a three-spot in the sixth inning and by the end of the game, all the noise coming from the seats was characterized by anger. Cole was asked directly if he feels like the Bronx faithful have given up on the 2022 Yankees, or if he noticed their mass departure.
“I was unaware of that,” the pitcher said.
The people who are planning to attend Game 4 bought tickets for a baseball game, but they might end up getting a funeral instead.