Yankees win rain-shortened opener as Gerrit Cole thrives in debut

WASHINGTON — What Hal Steinbrenner dreamed of when he dropped an ocean of money on Gerrit Cole in December came to life Thursday on a stormy late July evening.

Nothing about this baseball season has been normal. Spring training vanished in the middle of March due to the coronavirus and the invisible COVID-19 dances into every walk of life. New rules were introduced and protocols became as popular as OPS. Opening Day, a staple of late March or early April, was Thursday night with Cole against Nationals ace Max Scherzer in front of empty seats at Nationals Park.

The early exception to nothing being normal is Cole, who hurled the Yankees to a rain-shortened 4-1 victory in his debut and rewarded Steinbrenner for authorizing a nine-year deal for a whopping $324 million to sign the free agent.

Who knows what is next for the ever-changing MLB landscape due to COVID-19, which put 21-year-old Nationals star Juan Soto on the bench Thursday. But for one night, baseball came out of mothballs and Cole drove the bus.

Wednesday, Cole described his state of mind on the eve of starting a game for the team he grew up rooting for 3,000 miles away in Southern California.

“I am stoked, I am already having trouble sleeping,’’ said Cole, who gave the Nationals’ hitters nightmares.

In five innings, Cole gave up a run, a hit, issued a walk and fanned five. The final out was Victor Robles looking at a 2-2 strike that pushed the speed gun to 98 mph and was the last of Cole’s 75 pitches, 46 of which were strikes.

A wicked storm lit up the District’s sky and the lightning was escorted by ear-splitting thunder before the night sky cried a river of water into the mix and the game was stopped with the Yankees at bat in the sixth against Scherzer. Two hours and 58 minutes later the game was called.

Giancarlo Stanton’s two-run homer off Scherzer in the first inning staked Cole to a lead he didn’t release. Aaron Judge added an RBI doubled off Scherzer in the third and Stanton added a two-out RBI single in the fifth.

At that point, the only hit Cole gave up was Adam Eaton’s solo homer in the first with one out. Cole retired 14 of the next 16 hitters.

The Yankees were leading, 4-1, when play was halted with Luke Voit on third and Gio Urshela at first via a walk and single to left, respectively.

After Eaton’s first-inning home run cleared the right-field wall and reduced the Yankees’ lead to 2-1, Cole didn’t allow a hit. Eric Thames was hit by a pitch starting the second and Cole walked Asdrubal Cabrera with one out in the fifth.

Scherzer hurt himself by walking Urshela to open the fifth and second baseman Starlin Castro hurt Scherzer when he failed to make a bare-handed grab on Tyler Wade’s bunt that was scored a single.

Aaron Hicks’ grounder to the right side forced Wade at second and put runners at the corners for Judge. Scherzer got ahead of Judge, 2-1, and locked him up with an 86-mph slider umpire Angel Hernandez called a strike. Scherzer went to 3-0 on Gleyber Torres and loaded the bases for Stanton with a four-pitch free pass.

Stanton upped the Yankees’ lead to 4-1 by rifling a first-pitch fastball clocked at 97 to right that scored Urshela. Scherzer left the bases juiced by striking out Brett Gardner for the third straight time.

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