Gerrit Cole missed the first four pitches of the 2023 season and five innings began his internal conversation about surviving.
His catcher didn’t have the same nervousness.
“It was fine,” said Jose Trevino. “It’s Gerrit Cole.”
Cole struck out the next three Giants over a Yankees season-opening record 11 in six shutout innings.
In the first at-bat of the season with two batters in the bottom of the first, Aaron Judge lifted a Logan Webb sinker over a high arc to center field. The Giants righty ace only gave up five homers in 388 plate appearances to righty batters last season. Launching his sinker is not easy. It wasn’t a particularly bad sinker either. And it was 39 degrees with a steady wind at game time. Not conditions that promote advancing a ball.
Giants center fielder Mike Yastrzemski initially drifted as if he was going to settle under the ball. But he kept retreating. Trevino said that people in the Yankee dugout were waving as if with body language they could push the ball out. Yastrzemski was at the wall at the end and was leaping. But Webb’s sinker, the cold weather and the wind were no match for the judge and, again, his sense of humor. The ball landed in the trap beyond the center-field wall and Judge was within 61 of tying his Yankee record for homers in a season.
“He’s back doing what he did last year,” Gleyber Torres said.
It was a great home opener for the Yankees. It was cold, but sunny. The full house of over 46,000 welcomed Anthony Volpe with open arms and claps, and the New Jersey kid handled it very well – except for besieging the stadium upon arrival because he couldn’t initially find a player parking spot.
But as much as it seems like it’s Volpe’s time, it’s the team of Cole and Judge – the ace and face of the Yankees. If there was any message to be conveyed in the Yankees’ 121st season opener, it’s that money matters. Cole has the largest free-agent contract of all time ($324 million) and the largest free-agent deal of any type ($360 million).
The Giants talked a good game about chasing the top of the market going into the offseason. He tried and failed on the judge and he physically assaulted Carlos Correa. Instead, they appeared with a team familiar from their recent past – an ace in web and then a bunch of mix-and-match pieces.
On Thursday it was no match for a Yankees mix led by AL Cy Young and the high-priced megastar making his opening statement for MVP. The Yankees won 5–0 under the new rules, which were designed to make the game play faster and put the ball into play with more action. Half of what happened The game was played in a pithy 2:33. But 32 of the 51 outs came via strikeouts as Webb (12 whiffs) also tied the Giants’ season-opening strikeout record.
Cole’s first seven outings were strikeouts. He was accurate with his fastball, even though he struggled to get feel on a cold afternoon, and he used his changeup effectively. Volpe noted how impressive it was to have a pitchcom headset and to know what was called and to accurately watch Cole following the location and pitch.
And Cole rose to the moment when he needed it — San Francisco was 0-for-10 with men on base against Wright with six strikeouts. Plagued with an AL-high 33 homers in 2022, Cole allowed three hits (all singles) and recorded only one outfield out. No Giant could do what Judge could – in part because Judge decided to stay with the Yankees.
Judge showed last year, after turning down a $213.5 million extension offer in the spring and then setting a Yankee record with 62 homers, that he could blindside. So it’s no surprise that he appears unfazed by the contract and captaincy that he got in the winter.
Judge, like last year, noted that he tries not to make a big deal about himself, tries never to think about tomorrow when today is here and tomorrow and always sees himself as a team player. Tries to mold into a part – not a team.
Cole called Judge’s homer a “tone-setter”. Gleyber Torres would hit a two-run shot in the fourth and Judge parachuted an RBI single to center to drive in a two-run seventh.
“He likes the stage,” Aaron Bone said of the judge. “He loves this organization and what it stands for. He is now the central figure within this organization. He takes great pride in it. And I think he thrives. He loves the big stage. He loves competing with and against the best in the world. It’s fun for him.
It was enjoyable all around for the Yankees. The 2023 season unfolded and its lead actors played their roles brilliantly.