As it turned out, the most painful part of it all for the Yankee faithful just might have been watching Giancarlo Stanton turn into a clutch-hitting monster in the final weeks of the season and then on Tuesday night in the Wild Card game as well.
Wasn’t Stanton finally delivering like this supposed to be the push they needed to get over the hump in the postseason?
Albatross contract? What albatross contract?
Of course, what no one ever expected, at least not until the last couple of weeks, was Gerrit Cole essentially trading places with Stanton as the high-priced reason the Yankees came away empty in October yet again, knocked out in the third inning of the 6-2 season-ending loss to the Red Sox.
So let the CSI episode begin immediately:
Was a lingering hamstring injury the reason Cole turned into a mediocre pitcher in his last few starts? Did the absence of the Spider Tack sticky stuff come into play again in the cooler weather at Fenway Park?
It’s fair to believe there was tangible cause-and-effect because Cole has proven that he’s too dominant when he’s right to drop such a stink-bomb with the season on the line. He’s also proven he doesn’t wilt in big games, coming into Tuesday’s game with a 2.68 ERA in 13 career postseason starts.
Perhaps we’ll never know for sure, but none of that matters at the moment. Cole’s failure will leave a permanent stain on his resume, and perhaps his legacy as a Yankee as well.
The good news for him is that he has another seven seasons on his contract to make fans forget this night — or at least forgive — if he pitches in future Octobers the way the Yankees envisioned when they committed to that nine-year, $324 million contract.
Remember, when asked what was expected of Cole at that price, none other than Hal Steinbrenner defined it as multiple championships.
Last October he pretty much did his part in a losing cause. This time, although the Yankees’ inconsistent offense reared its ugly head again at the worst time, first costing them the chance to host the Wild Card Game when they didn’t hit against the Rays over the weekend, and then again Tuesday night, there’s no getting around the fact that Cole let his team down.
Nobody knew it more than him, obviously. He took responsibility for pitching poorly and was succinct when asked how it made him feel:
“Sick to my stomach.”
He was a bit cryptic at first when asked if having COVID in August and then the hamstring injury may have taken a toll on him.
“At the end of the season we’re all going through and wearing whatever we’ve had to overcome to get to this point,” he said. “The other team is dealing with the same kind of situation. When all is said and done I didn’t perform the way I wanted to perform.”
When asked directly if the hamstring was an issue, however, he answered with one word.
Still, as analytical and candid as Cole usually is after he pitches, good or bad, on this night he seemed almost dazed and at a loss to explain exactly what went wrong, other than saying he gave up a couple of home runs on mistake pitches.
When asked if there was a common denominator in his recent poor starts since the hamstring injury, he said:
“If I had one, I would have tried to get in front of it for this game. But I don’t really have one.”
So maybe the cause of his late-season problems will go undiagnosed, but in any case, Cole is here to stay, so all the Yankees can hope is that he’ll get back to pitching in the postseason the way he has in the past, especially with the Astros.
Their bigger issue going into the off-season will be making changes to fix the offense.
As Boone said when asked about that offense: “That’s obviously been our calling card the last few years. This we struggled at times. We’ve got to examine a lot of things. Obviously there will be some personnel shakeups. I’m not sure why we didn’t realize our potential there.”
Perhaps more than anything the Yankees have to hope D.J. LeMahieu rebounds in a big way, because they desperately need him to be the dynamic, high-contact hitter he was in 2019 and 2020.
Otherwise, as pressure will continue to mount on them to win their first championship since 2009, it remains to be seen if Steinbrenner is willing to push past whatever the new luxury-tax threshold is for next season and beyond.
The irony is Hal and the Yankees thought they’d essentially bought another championship or three when they traded for Stanton and his mammoth contract, and then again when they outbid the Dodgers and everybody else for Cole.
Now Stanton is finally performing like the 2017 NL MVP but Cole lost his ace-like form at the worst possible time. Will the two of them ever be great in the same postseason? Ultimately that might still be what the Yankees need to win it all again.