Yankees ace Gerrit Cole still not in top form

Billy Crystal was nowhere in sight Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium. Luckily, for Gerrit Cole’s sake, he was at a safe distance, presumably occupying a stage on Broadway, with his current show premiering.

While it seems ridiculous for us to mention Crystal’s whereabouts in relation to Cole’s second start to the Bronx this season, he was the first to point the finger at “Mr. Saturday Night” for contributing to his opening day flop against the Red Sox.

Why Crystal was the choice to throw that ceremonial first pitch, for a franchise that boasts 27 championships, is a bizarre thing in and of itself. As for the impact on Cole, the pre-game festivities — capped off by Crystal’s pitch — ended up delaying the game by about four minutes, which annoyed the Yankees ace enough that he took it off. later admit.

It was probably his biggest mistake. Cole should have swallowed that one. Because after being knocked down by Boston in back-to-back starts — including last year’s wild card loss — no excuses were going to cut it after the bad opener. Rebellious hamstrings helped explain his Fenway implosion, but it’s a new season and the bill is running out for Cole’s nine-year, $324 million contract.

With patience among the fanbase already drained, it wasn’t the perfect time for the Blue Jays to visit the Bronx with one of baseball’s most destructive rosters. If anything went wrong with Cole before Wednesday night, he had to hurry, or Spider Tack’s skepticism would stick with him for a while. The Yankees spent a record amount on Cole as the supposed endgame for the No. 28 title, not just another guy for the ride.

On Wednesday, Cole lasted 5 2/3 innings and was burned twice by last year’s MVP runner-up Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who hammered him for a pair of long home runs. With two outs in the first inning, after Cole froze Bo Bichette with a laser-guided fastball at 98 mph, Guerrero destroyed an overhanging slider, crushing a 416-foot shot that was briefly in Aaron Hicks’ leaping glove before to bounce off the center field nets.

Cole bounced back to strike out six of the next seven, including two more Ks, but in the third set Bichette’s brace was followed by another explosion from Guerrero that hit the back wall of the visitors’ bullpen (427ft ). This time, Cole tried to beat him inside with a 98mph heater, but Guerrero still got on the court, even though he wasn’t on the plate.

Guerrero single-handedly sabotaged what was supposed to be Cole’s narrative pinball machine. That might be a lot to put on a mid-April appearance, especially after shortened spring training, but Cole doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. The sooner he changes this conversation, the better. For him, and the Yankees.

The Judge Contract subplot already threatens to become a distraction just five games into the season. Getting Cole to turn into a $300 million question mark every five days wouldn’t help. That’s why he had to provide positive answers on Wednesday before the noise around him grew louder.

“Any time Gerrit goes to the mound it’s a great start,” manager Aaron Boone said before the game. “He’s one of the best pitchers in the sport and obviously someone you rely on a lot, so it’s always big.

“But I’m really excited where Gerrit is at the moment, both in his physical and mental preparation. I feel like he’s in a good position, just from a team perspective and comfort, I think he’s ready to go out and have a great year.

It is certainly possible. Nobody bury Cole on April 13. It’s been a while since we’ve seen his dominant side. In the final month of last season, Cole had a 5.13 ERA and opposing teams hit .282 with a .833 OPS during that September span. Then he survived just two rounds at Fenway in the humble wild card loss.

This spring should have been the occasion to press the reset button. But the 99-day lockout not only complicated the winter, but condensed Cole’s preparation for the regular season, and he methodically worked his way through his Grapefruit League schedule, ever mindful of the change in routine.

Because of this, Cole planned a more conservative approach to opening day, but the Red Sox ambushed him again with three runs in the first inning, including a two-run outburst by Rafael Devers and the RBI double. by JD Martinez. Cole settled after that and allowed just one single to the last 13 batters he faced from that point on. But three runs in four innings (just three Ks) still counts as a 6.75 ERA, and that’s not a Cole-worthy performance. At least not the one the Yankees thought they signed two years ago.

If it’s any consolation, seeing Guerrero destroy Cole’s night was more palatable than pinning him on a 74-year-old comedian.

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