Yankees welcome sharp Gerrit Cole back in extra-inning loss to Orioles

NEW YORK — As manager Aaron Boone passed Gerrit Cole in the bowels of Yankee Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, the 2023 American League Cy Young simply nodded.

With his 2024 debut mere hours away, Cole took a business-as-usual approach before his return from elbow inflammation, which shut him down midway through spring training. Still, some new wrinkles were added to his routine, such as lighting a scented candle near his locker. The habit has become popular with Yankees starters since Marcus Stroman was introduced to the clubhouse.

Cole could also be seen trying on and stretching out his jersey, as this year’s new Nike uniforms have come with plenty of complaints. Aside from that, though, he enjoyed a normal pregame as Boone tried to tone down the enthusiasm.

“There’s been a lot of building excitement,” the manager said before the Yankees’ 7-6, 10-inning loss to the Orioles. “At the same time, I just want him to build properly, get off to a good start and not overhype one start. It’s a step along the way for him and for us.”

While Boone sought to minimize the pageantry, public address announcer Paul Olden made sure to welcome Cole back when lineups were announced. That message received a loud ovation from the Bronx faithful before a Cole-centric highlight video appeared on the jumbotron.

Minutes later, Cole threw his first pitch of the season, a 94.2-mph cutter to Gunnar Henderson that didn’t come close to the strike zone.

Henderson went on to double when a well-struck, bouncing grounder ricocheted off of Gleyber Torres’ glove. Ryan O’Hearn eventually drove Henderson home with a ground-rule double.

The O’s had few hard-hit balls in the first, but Cole escaped the inning after just 13 pitches. He totaled 62, completing four frames while tallying three hits, two earned runs, one walk and five strikeouts. The first three strikeouts came in the third inning.

While Cole threw 70 pitches in his third and final rehab start, he was on a more restrictive count while incorporating the added adrenaline and stress that comes with competing at the major league level.

“We’ll build him conservatively,” Boone said.

Cole threw 28 four-seamers, 13 cutters, 11 knuckle-curves, five change-ups and five sliders against the Orioles. His fastball averaged 95.1 mph and maxed out at 97.5 mph.

The right-hander was charged with a second run when his replacement, Ron Marinaccio, surrendered a home run to Ramón Urías with an inherited runner on base. That runner, Cedric Mullins, ended Cole’s night with a single. Another O’Hearn double gave the Orioles a fourth run in the fifth.

In the seventh, Ryan Mountcastle provided an insurance run with a double. Henderson scored on the two-bagger after getting hit by Victor González earlier in the inning. Yankees fans celebrated the plunking after Aaron Judge, absent from Wednesday’s lineup, took a fastball to his left hand on Tuesday.

The Henderson hit-by-pitch bit the Yankees, but they cut Baltimore’s lead to one in the bottom of the seventh when Giancarlo Stanton crushed a three-run homer to Monument Park. Stanton then tied the game at five in the ninth when he singled home Anthony Volpe, who led the inning off with a double.

However, the Orioles retook the lead on a Cedric Mullins single in the 10th. A Jose Trevino throwing error brought Mullins home after he stole third.

A Ben Rice sac fly got the Yankees one more run in the 10th, but that wasn’t enough.

While Baltimore tied the series in dramatic fashion, getting a healthy Cole back is a huge boost for one of baseball’s best rotations. Yankees starters led the majors with a 2.86 ERA before Wednesday’s game, and that was without Cole ever throwing a pitch.

“He’s the reigning Cy Young and an enormous part of our team and an enormous part of our culture,” Boone said. “So to have him kind of work his way back to this point to be ready to go out there and compete on this level is exciting, certainly for all of us. But also, you don’t want to get too emotionally invested in all that as well. It’s a process still getting him to where we need to get him, but I feel like he’s in a really good spot and throwing the ball really well.”