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Yankees’ big money stars Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole lead Yankees to perfect start

New York Post logo: MainLogo New York Post 3/30/2023 Joel Sherman

Gerrit Cole missed high with the first four pitches of the 2023 season and his internal dialogue began about surviving five innings.

His catcher did not have similar trepidation.

“It was fine,” Jose Trevino said. “It’s Gerrit Cole.”

Cole struck out the next three Giants en route to a Yankees season-opening record 11 over six shutout innings.

Two batters into the bottom of the first, two pitches into the first at-bat in the season after THE SEASON, Aaron Judge lifted a Logan Webb sinker on a high arc to center field. The Giants righty ace only gave up five homers in 388 plate appearances to righty batters last season. His sinker is not easy to launch. This was not even a particularly bad sinker. And it was 39 degrees at game time with a steady breeze. Not conditions that promote carry on a ball.

Giants center fielder Mike Yastrzemski initially drifted as if he was going to settle under the ball. But he kept retreating. Trevino said in the Yankee dugout guys were waving as if by body language they could push the ball out. Yastrzemski finally was at the wall and leaping. But Webb’s sinker, cold weather and wind were no match for Judge and, again, his sense of the moment. The ball landed in the netting beyond the center-field wall and Judge was within 61 of tying his Yankee record for homers in a season.

“He’s back doing what he did last year,” Gleyber Torres said.

© Provided by New York Post Aaron Judge solo home run during the first inning when the New York Yankees played the San Francisco Giants on Opening Day.Robert Sabo for NY Post © Provided by New York Post Aaron JudgeCharles Wenzelberg / New York Post

This was a wonderful home opener for the Yankees. It was cold, but sunny. The full house of more than 46,000 welcomed Anthony Volpe with open arms and clapping hands and the New Jersey kid handled it all so well — except for having to circle the stadium upon arrival because he couldn’t initially find the player parking lot.

see also © Provided by New York Post beyond the back page Why Anthony Volpe’s Opening Day nod feels like New York’s most significant baseball debut in years

But as much as this feels like Volpe’s time, this is Cole and Judge’s team — the ace and the face of the Yankees. If there was messaging to be derived in the Yankees’ 121st season opener, it is that money matters. Cole still owns the largest free-agent contract ($324 million) ever signed by a pitcher and Judge the largest free-agent deal of any type ($360 million).

The Giants had talked a good game about chasing the top of the market going into the offseason. They tried and failed on Judge and they just failed Carlos Correa on his physical. Instead, they showed up with a team familiar to its recent past — an ace in Webb and then a bunch of mix-and-match pieces.

On Thursday it was no match for a Yankees’ mix led by high-priced megastars making their opening statements for the AL Cy Young and MVP. The Yankees won 5-0 under new rules designed to play the game quicker and get the ball in play with more action. Half that occurred. The game was played in a pithy 2:33. But 32 of the 51 outs came via strikeouts as Webb (12 whiffs) also set the Giants’ season-opening strikeout record.

Cole’s first seven outs were strikeouts. He was accurate with his fastball even as he battled for feel on a cool afternoon and he used his changeup effectively. Volpe mentioned how impressive it was to have the PitchCom headset and know what was called and the location and seeing Cole precisely deliver pitch after pitch.

© Provided by New York Post Gerrit Cole reacts after getting a strike out to end the sixth inning on Opening Day.Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post © Provided by New York Post Gerrit ColeUSA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

And when Cole needed it he rose to the moment — San Francisco was 0-for-10 with men on base against the righty with six strikeouts. Plagued by an AL-high 33 homers in 2022, Cole allowed three hits (all singles) and recorded just one outfield out. No Giant could do what Judge could do — in part because Judge decided to stay with the Yankees.

see also © Provided by New York Post The early reviews for MLB’s new pitch clock are looking good

Judge had shown last year, after turning down a $213.5 million extension offer in spring and then setting a Yankee record with 62 homers, that he could put blinders on. So no surprise that he appears unburdened by the contract and captaincy that came to him over the winter.

Judge, like last year, mentioned he tries not to make a big deal about himself, tries never to think about yesterday when today is here and tomorrow is coming and always attempts to meld himself into a piece of the team — not be THE TEAM.

Cole called Judge’s homer a “tone-setter.” Gleyber Torres would hit a two-run shot in the fourth and Judge would conclude a two-run seventh by parachuting an RBI single to center.

“He likes the stage,” Aaron Bone said of Judge. “He loves this organization and what it means. He’s the central figure within this organization now. He takes a lot of pride in that. And I do think he thrives. I think he loves the competition. He loves the big stage. He loves competing with and against the best in the world. That’s fun to him.”

It was enjoyable all around for the Yankees. The curtain lifted on the 2023 season and their lead actors played their parts superbly.


New York Post

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