The night was over and the task was done, and Gerrit Cole was doing what he had to do on the best side of his career on the terrifyingly sidelined nights: he was having.
He was definitely terrible and there was no escape from it. In the do-or-die game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park — the definition of earning your captain bars as a Yankee — he threw 50 pitches and recorded just six outs.
It was already 3-0 when Aaron Boone came to get him, and although he probably wanted to sue himself, he knew this wasn’t the time for debate. He handed the ball to Boone and took a long walk to third-base dugout. Now, hours later, he wore it all.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world,” and it happens to 29 teams every year, go home quickly and never achieve your ultimate goal. So it’s not really about focusing on the good that gives us this opportunity or the good you did in the regular season – there’s really nothing you can do to make it better.
“You can’t be afraid of this feeling. You’ve inevitably faced it to get that championship, as you said, but there’s really nothing to make you better.”
The good news is that Cole plays for the Yankees, and so this is a lock of reality, giving him other October opportunities, many of which allow Tuesday’s mockery to evaporate in the fog of time. For Cole, it really can go one of two ways. He may have allowed one bad night to define him – perhaps, given his makeup. Or he can free up his time and wait for redemption.
It is worth recalling that Mariano Rivera – one of the most terrifying postseason pitchers in baseball history – had something of a disaster that would define the early moment of his reign as the Yankees approached. That was October 5, 1997, the 4th game of the ALDS, the eighth inning. The Yankees led the Indians, 2-1 in runs and 2-1 in games.
In his first year with the Yankees, All-Star Riviera was asked to get six outs and add the Yankees to the ALCS. He’s got two. Then Sandy Alomar Jr. reached, throwing a fastball to the wall at right field at Jacobs Field, beyond the reach of Paul O’Neill. The Indians win Game 4 after the inning. The next night he wins Game 5.
“It’s not a good pitch,” the 27-year-old Rivera later lamented. “He was able to get good wood on it. It’s tough, but I can’t do anything about it now. It’s already been done.”
This was a response from Classic Close, who vowed to move on quickly, and Rivera did it. In his next 23 postseason games, including three years, he saved 16 games, allowed 18 hits in 33 innings and compiled an era of 0.00. In the 61 playoff games he put in after Alomar took him out, his ERA was 0.92.
He was not perfect. But he was too close. And he made sure he was so good that his mistakes were footnotes, not failures.
There is another rampant. For that, we can cite Juris Familia, who was confident as of October 2015, lighting up with three unbeaten pitches. He was then ashamed of running out of Alex Gordon and closed out Game 1 of the World Series in Kansas City. Gordon took him outside. The Royals won the match and the series.
“You have to have a small memory,” Familia said that night at Kaufman Stadium. “I’m already ready to take the ball again.”
And Familia… well, he doesn’t have the chance of a playoff redemption that Rivera has, or Cole could have. But the following year he gave the Giants Connor Gillespie the season-ending, three-run home run in the NL Wild Card Game. And his second tour with the Mets was a low light of a terrible time meltdown.
The assumption is that Cole is closer to good intensity than bad. He stood up and showed his failure on Tuesday night. He shows more when he performs his performance to bury his moment in the weeds of ancient history.