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The Yankees didn’t make Gerrit Cole the highest-paid pitcher of all time for games in April against the Orioles, but on this April night, with Baltimore in The Bronx, Cole was as dominant as he has ever been in pinstripes.
The right-hander, reunited with Kyle Higashioka behind the plate, was the same overpowering pitcher he was when the duo was paired together late last season, when Cole had a 1.00 ERA in his final four outings to close out the regular season.
In Tuesday’s 7-2 win, Cole tossed seven shutout innings and struck out 13.
It was Cole’s most dominant start as a Yankee.
When asked about keeping him with Higashioka in future starts, Boone said, “I’ll pair them up, I’m sure, a fair amount. But I also felt like Opening Day, Gary [Sanchez] and Gerrit were really good together. I’m comfortable with both guys.”
Boone added: “[Higashioka and Cole] have a good thing going, yin and yang and the details they go through between starts. I’m not going to go all in on that by any means because he works well with Gary … but if it lines up that way, so be it.”
It’s hard to argue with the results. Cole allowed just four hits and didn’t walk a batter. Boone and Cole pointed to his fastball command as the key to the outing, but he used all four of his pitches effectively.
The Orioles threatened just once against Cole — and it came almost immediately.
Cedric Mullins opened the game with a line drive up the middle and stole second. Mullins advanced to third on a wild pitch, but Cole recovered to strike out Trey Mancini for the first out. Anthony Santander followed with a grounder to first. Jay Bruce fired home in time to get Mullins at the plate.
“That was a fast runner on third base,’’ Boone said. “That’s not an easy play. He didn’t rush.”
Cole then got Ryan Mountcastle to pop out to Bruce in foul territory to end the inning.
In the bottom of the frame, DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge hit two screamers against Dean Kremer. Judge’s liner drilled Kremer in the leg, but the right-hander stayed in the game.
A walk by Brett Gardner loaded the bases with no one out, but Giancarlo Stanton — fresh off his mammoth grand slam on Monday — whiffed for the first out. Gleyber Torres was called out on a 3-2 check swing and Clint Frazier struck out looking on three pitches.
Bruce then provided some offense in the bottom of the second, when he led off with a homer to right, his first as a Yankee.
Cole struck out four straight before Mancini poked a ground-rule double down the right-field line on an 0-2 count with two out in the third. Cole then whiffed Santander on three pitches, finishing him off with a 100-mph four-seamer.
The Yankees loaded the bases with no one out against Kremer again in the fourth, and scored a run on a LeMahieu double play. Aaron Judge followed with a hard RBI single through the right for a 3-0 lead.
They added a run in the seventh on a double blistered by Stanton that was measured at 117 mph off the bat and finished off the night off with a three-run shot by Judge that landed in the left-field bleachers, estimated at 432 feet.
Chad Green tossed a scoreless eighth and the Yankees were one out away from a second straight shutout, but a shoddy play at short by Gleyber Torres extended the inning and Lucas Luetge then gave up a two-run homer to Rio Ruiz.
The heavy lifting, though, was done by Cole, who retired the final 12 batters he faced in a 97-pitch outing.
Higashioka said when Cole is on top of his game like he was on Tuesday, catching him is “pretty fun.”
The Yankees would agree.