BOSTON – Gerrit Cole and the New York Yankees took a winding route into the AL wild-card game, squeezing in on the final day of a tumultuous season.
As their ace pitcher flopped on the Fenway Park mound, not even an appearance by Boston heartbreaker Bucky Dent could help them advance in October.
Cole was chased in the third inning after serving up home runs to Xander Bogaerts and Kyle Schwarber, and the Yankees were eliminated early from the playoffs with a 6-2 loss Tuesday night to the rival Boston Red Sox.
“Guys are crushed,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Tonight was a tough one to take.”
Dent's famous home run at Fenway sent New York past Boston in the 1978 AL East tiebreaker, the only other one-game, winner-take-all matchup between the teams. The former shortstop traveled from his Florida home to attend this one, and the Yankees were hoping his presence alone could help propel them into an AL Division Series against Tampa Bay.
It turned out to be just another footnote in a season short on memorable moments.
Cole lasted only two-plus innings, allowing three runs and four hits with two walks in his latest shortcoming against Boston. It was a lackluster showing from a pitcher who landed a $324 million, nine-year deal from the Yankees as a free agent in December 2019.
“A couple of big mistakes,” Cole said. “Sick to my stomach.”
Cole won 16 games during the regular season, but including Tuesday’s loss was 1-3 at Fenway Park this season. For the night, Yankees pitchers issued seven walks, and four scored.
“This is the worst feeling in the world,” the right-hander said. “There’s nothing that really makes you feel any better."
The Yankees now head into another intriguing offseason as they continue to try to piece together a roster capable of ending their 12-year World Series drought.
Tuesday's ending was fitting for a New York team that was inconsistent throughout 2021, tallying 13 straight wins in August and then dropping 11 of their next 13 games.
Along the way they lost several key pieces. Center fielder Aaron Hicks saw his season end in May following wrist injury. The bullpen took a hit three months later when lefty Zack Britton injured his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery.
There also were the unexpected absences of Aaron Judge, Jonathan Loaisiga, Nestor Cortes Jr., Wandy Peralta, Kyle Higashioka and Gio Urshela after they tested positive for COVID-19 coming back from the All-Star break.
That was on top of the sporadic struggles of closer Aroldis Chapman, who had control issues at times.
“This was a challenging year. This was not an easy year for us,” Boone said. “I loved the way we’ve competed and showed up the last couple of months. But the other message is, the rest of league has closed the gap on us. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to get better in every aspect."
The Yankees remained a threat because of their offense and did their best to give their lineup a facelift at the trade deadline by adding first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Joey Gallo.
But defensive struggles by catcher Gary Sánchez and Gleyber Torres — moved from shortstop to second late in the season — were costly down the stretch.
The same was true on the bases, where Yankees runners made 22 outs at home plate this season, tied for most in the majors. That futility was on display in the sixth inning Tuesday when, trailing 3-1, Giancarlo Stanton singled high off the Green Monster and Judge was thrown out at the plate as Boston executed a terrific relay.
The defeat set up a big offseason for a franchise that also must work out a new deal for Boone, whose contract ends following the World Series.
The Yankees are 328-218 in Boone’s four seasons and have made the playoffs each year. But they have only one appearance in the ALCS during his tenure.
It doesn’t appear Boone is going anywhere for now.
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said in July that he plans to keep Boone, general manager Brian Cashman, and the core of the team.
“Obviously, my contract is up," Boone said. "I haven’t had any conversations with anyone about that. So we’ll see. I love being here. I love going to work with this group. I love going to work with this group of players.”
Stanton said he likes playing for Boone.
“It’s been great," the slugger said. "We’ve been here the same amount of time so we’ve watched each other grow in this uniform.”
Boone believes there's still potential for this group. New York has reached the postseason in five straight years, but after losing the 2019 ALCS, the Yankees were knocked out in the Division Series the following year and then earlier still this season.
“You feel like there’s more on the bone for us to have," Boone said. "But I’m proud of the fact that we put ourselves in a position to give ourselves a chance and to have this awful feeling because we were playing for something meaningful.”
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