NEW YORK (AP) — Gerrit Cole retired the first 16 hitters and pitched eight outstanding innings to strengthen his Cy Young Award credentials as the New York Yankees moved back over .500 with a 5-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night.
Cole (14-4) allowed a run and two hits in his longest outing since pitching a two-hit shutout against Minnesota on April 16. He struck out nine, walked none and permitted two baserunners while lowering his AL-best ERA to 2.75.
“He was just dialed in,” New York manager Aaron Boone said. “I thought he was putting it where and how he wanted to all night. I don’t know if it was his best stuff but I thought he was so sharp.”
Cole won his fourth straight decision since getting tagged for six runs in an 8-1 loss to Boston on Aug. 19. He also allowed two runs or fewer for the major league-best 25th time this year, improving to 8-2 following a New York loss. The Yankees are 22-10 in his starts.
Cole reached 200 innings for the second straight season and sixth time overall. He also is the only pitcher to reach the mark in five seasons since 2017 and the only Yankee pitcher to reach the mark in the past decade.
“It’s a nice, round numbers that a lot of pitchers shoot for,” Cole said. “It’s a testament to everybody’s preparation behind the scenes and obviously my teammates on the field making plays for me, getting the opportunity to get deep (in games) and pitch with a lead.”
It was the fifth time Cole pitched at least seven innings and allowed three or fewer baserunners, the most in team history.
“He had his good stuff, fastball, slider, cutter,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said. “He was tough tonight, he really was.”
Jake Bauers hit a three-run homer four batters in against Jose Berríos (11-11), Aaron Judge and Estevan Florial added RBI doubles and the Yankees avoided a three-game sweep.
Toronto had its five-game winning streak stopped and is a half-game ahead of Texas and Seattle for the second of three American League wild-card spots.
Cole lost his perfect game bid on his 69th pitch when Alejandro Kirk doubled to right-centre. After allowing the hit, Cole struck out Kevin Kiermaier and retired former Houston teammate George Springer.
“I knew he hadn’t given up anything yet, so I guess it’s at least on your mind, but I don’t think you get caught up in it yet,” Boone said. “You just realize how efficient he’s being."
Kirk is 8 for 18 of Cole.
“Kirk just finds a way to get to the centre of the ball off me like a lot,” Cole said. “I was convinced the cutter was going to get underneath the bat but I think it was just a little bit too up in the strike zone.”
Cole got two more strikeouts in the seventh by fanning Bo Bichette and Davis Schneider to end the inning at 88 pitches.
Cole allowed his second hit when Matt Chapman started the eighth with a double. Chapman ended the shutout bid by scoring on a wild pitch, but Cole retired Whit Merrifield and Kirk as Clay Holmes warmed up and exited to a nice ovation from the crowd.
Holmes allowed two runs in the ninth on an RBI fielder’s choice by pinch-hitter Vladimir Guerrero Jr and a fielding error by Gleyber Torres.
Trying to avoid their first losing season since 1992, the Yankees moved to 78-77 with nine games remaining and avoided getting swept at home by Toronto for the second time in three seasons.
Berrios allowed four runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings.
Kiermaier made a diving catch on a sinking liner by Ben Rortvedt to open the seventh and Springer made a diving catch on Torres for the second out of the seventh.
Springer also made a diving catch on a liner by DJ LeMahieu with the bases loaded to end the eighth.
“I know on paper they’re the best in the business,” Schneider said.
Blue Jays: Guerrero (right knee) was held out of the lineup after an MRI showed inflammation. Guerrero took swings throughout the game, which convinced Schneider he could be an option … 1B Brandon Belt (back spasms) took swings in the batting cage for the third straight day but will not be activated when first eligible on Friday.
Yankees: Slumping OF/DH Giancarlo Stanton took early batting practice on the field and was rested. Boone said there is no consideration to shutting him or Judge down for the rest of the season.
Toronto RHP Chris Bassitt (14-8, 3.78 ERA) opposes RHP Tyler Glasnow (9-6, 3.53) in the opener of a three-game series at Tampa Bay on Friday. Bassitt is attempting to join Tampa Bay’s Zach Eflin as the AL’s only 15-game winners.
New York RHP Luke Weaver (2-5, 6.77) makes his second start since being claimed from Seattle last week and opposes Arizona rookie RHP Brandon Pfaadt (2-8, 5.86) on Friday.
Larry Fleisher, The Associated Press