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Yankees need Gerrit Cole to be a hero with season on the line

Gerrit Cole recommended not playing hero ball.

When asked what his counsel was for a youngster such as Luis Gil, in the deep end of a pennant race, Cole offered, “Trust your teammates.”

That is sound guidance. Even as one of the aces of the whole sport, Cole philosophized: “You can’t do it all yourself.”

The problem, far too often in 2021, is you can’t do it with this Yankees team either. They are not to be trusted. Cole’s advice was “don’t try to be a hero.” Fine. But it is hard to win when there are too many goats.

In his sixth major league start, Gil received no run support Saturday, as yet another first-inning double play established a sour offensive tone. And a Gary Sanchez error completely altered the tenor of what became an 11-3 Indians rout.

So, you know what this means?

Cole needs to be a hero Sunday, regardless of what he thinks of the role.

The Yankees’ final six regular-season series of 2021 had set up as nine games against weak foes — the Orioles, Indians and Rangers — followed by three at both Boston and Toronto before three to end the year versus the Rays. If Cole does not help the Yankees beat the Indians in the series finale Sunday, they will have split six games against Baltimore and Cleveland. And the Yankees are 19-29 against the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays.

Gerrit Cole
Robert Sabo

Tampa Bay will have long wrapped up a second straight AL East title by the time it plays in The Bronx. But this isn’t like Septembers past. Rosters only expanded to 28 this month. Thus, the Rays can’t just rest regulars en masse. Besides, the Rays always use their full roster to win and, if it comes down to it, Tampa Bay would be motivated to knock the Yankees out of the playoffs for a second straight season — this time by not even letting them in.

That’s why these are playoff games now for the Yankees, and manager Aaron Boone should remember what he did last October.

He turned Kyle Higashioka into the starting catcher — something he should do again for the final two weeks (Boone was non-committal when asked about it).

Sanchez is in the lineup for his bat and, aside from a hot streak in June, his results have not been much better than last season. He is more of a threat than Higashioka. But ultimately the Yankees want power and Sanchez is averaging a homer once every 16.8 at-bats compared to every 17.3 for Higashioka.

But the Yankees just play with fewer jitters when Higashioka catches. Plus, Sanchez is a player who can wilt when his confidence flags. And where can it be now? Both Thursday’s loss in Baltimore and Saturday’s in The Bronx came with a big assist from Sanchez failing to catch catchable balls. Boone, normally more willing to punch himself than publicly criticize a player, said of Saturday’s miscue, “You have to make that play.”

It came in the fifth, Cleveland leading 1-0. The Yankees had zero, in part, because Aaron Judge hit into the team’s 25th first-inning double play — five more than any team.

Gil was again parlaying tantalizing stuff with wildness. Cleveland had just one run when Orlando Mercado lifted a pop behind home plate. Sanchez, normally strong on pop-ups, did not get a good read as the ball had a lot of backspin. Still, Gil didn’t need a hero, just a routine major league play that would have made it two outs, none on. He didn’t get it.

Gil then hit Mercado with a pitch and walked Jose Ramirez on four pitches. Albert Abreu, another youngster in the deep end, entered. By the time the inning was done, Cleveland led 8-0. If you are scoring at home, Cleveland’s next two runs scored when DJ LeMahieu threw a ball away before Franmil Reyes homered. LeMahieu is playing out of position at third, with Gio Urshela at short, to keep Gleyber Torres in the lineup at second, though he is not playing well defensively there either while continuing not to hit the ball with much authority.

On Sunday, Higashioka will be in the lineup as Cole’s personal catcher and Boone should put LeMahieu at second, Urshela at third and Wade at short until Andrew Velazquez can take over short when he is eligible to return Wednesday. The Yankees can get enough homers elsewhere that they should emphasize defense where they can. It is about building trust, even at this late date, with the group. And it is going to take the group for the Yankees to land a wild-card spot.

On Sunday, though — whether Cole wants the role or not — they need a hero.

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