Gerrit Cole watched closely from the dugout on Friday night as the Los Angeles Dodgers pulverized his teammate, the right-hander Luis Severino. Cole was starting the middle game of the weekend series between the Yankees and the Dodgers, and what he saw of the lineup across the field, which has mashed more home runs than any other National League team, had him worried.
“There are outside circumstances that sometimes kind of elevate your preparation to a certain extent,” Cole said a night later, after buzzing through the same Dodgers. “A lot of heightened awareness. I mean, they beat Sevy up really good. That’s not the most comfortable situation to go in and pitch to when you have a dynamic offense swinging the bat well.
“So, one way or another, you can’t really let it negatively affect you. You’ve got to somehow channel it to give yourself some positive energy and to go out there and give your team a chance to win the series.”
Cole and the Yankees accomplished just that over a wild, come-from-behind weekend in front of three raucous, sellout crowds at Dodger Stadium. Aaron Judge did not play during Sunday’s series-clinching 4-1 victory because of a sore and swollen right big toe that he hurt while making a sensational running catch on Saturday that carried him into — and then through — the fence in right field.
Judge said on Sunday that there was a chance he could be placed on the injured list when the Yankees start a six-game homestand on Tuesday.
“If I’m on it, I’m on it,” Judge said. “But I’m trying not to be, you know? Who knows? I’ve got no answer yet. But I’m hoping today and tomorrow, I have a little bit of rest and it will be good to go on, hopefully, Tuesday. We’ll take it day to day right now.”
Judge, who is hitting .348 with 14 homers over his past 19 games, said he would undergo tests when the team returned to New York.
“I don’t know what they’ve got planned for me, if it’s X-rays or M.R.I.s,” he said.
Judge is central to the Yankees’ success in so many ways, and every game for the team is vital in the full-on sprint that the A.L. East has become this summer. It is the only division that contains two teams winning more than 60 percent of their games (Tampa Bay and Baltimore). And the only division in which every team had a winning record through Sunday.
The Yankees’ 36-25 record is good for third place in the East, though it would have them in first place in three of the five other divisions.
That is why, after a 4-2 western trip in which they faced some frisky young arms in Seattle and then heavy lumber in Los Angeles, smiles and laughter permeated the clubhouse Sunday evening as they watched Game 2 of the N.B.A. finals between Denver and Miami and dressed to come home. They had battled walls, cramps, cross-country plane flights and more and still gained one game in the standings while they were gone.
“Some winning things are happening,” Manager Aaron Boone said.
On Saturday, with friends and family watching, Jake Bauers, a Southern California native whose rebuilt swing since the Yankees purchased him from Cincinnati last June 3 continues to improve, had the first two-homer game of his career. Then on Sunday he belted a sharp single in the seventh with the Yankees trailing by 1-0 to begin the latest comeback.
“I’m grateful every day I get to walk in this building,” said Bauers, who is with his sixth organization and was hitting .135 at Class AAA Louisville when the Yankees acquired him. “As long as they keep letting me in, I’ll keep giving them everything I’ve got.”
Anthony Volpe, the rookie shortstop whose sharp defense has belied his struggles at the plate, blasted a two-run homer in the ninth inning Sunday. Outfielder Oswaldo Cabrera hit a key home run on Saturday after an odyssey in which he was demoted to the minors after the series in Seattle, met his Scranton/Wilkes-Barre teammates on the road at Lehigh Valley, and then was summoned right back to Los Angeles and activated because Greg Allen injured a hip.
“Five hours in Lehigh Valley,” Cabrera said. “It was like, I’m visiting you guys, but I have to get back now.”
The topper was Judge’s determination on Saturday to rob J.D. Martinez of what appeared to be a sure extra-base hit with a runner aboard, no outs and the Yankees leading by 5-3 in the eighth inning. After sprinting some 79 feet back toward the wall, according to Statcast, Judge reached up with his left hand, made the catch and then crashed into the part of the chain-link fence that serves as the gate to the visitors’ bullpen.
As his 6-foot-7, 282-pound frame made a clear indentation in the chain link, the gate opened and Judge momentarily disappeared out of play, into the bullpen.
“He basically broke the latch that holds the fence together,” said Dominick Guerrero, a Dodger Stadium assistant groundskeeper. “He sheared off the metal from the wall. Just a testament to what kind of athlete he is.”
The Yankees see it every day.
“Just an awesome catch,” Boone said. “Add it to the list. In a big-time spot, too.”
Judge waved off Boone and the trainers in the moment. But his toe started to get the best of him, he said, once “the adrenaline wore off.” Boone likened the pain to “banging your toe in the middle of the night.” There is a concrete base running below the fence that is roughly the height of a sidewalk curb. As Judge smashed into the fence, his right foot pounded into the cement.
“Look, I think all these places try to do their best to make things as safe as possible,” Boone said. “But to me, it seems like the cement at the bottom could be padded up a little bit.”
Cole, who likened the catch to something that Bo Jackson would have done, watched Judge’s heroics on a television from the cold tub inside the clubhouse. The daily pace of baseball leaves little room for spectatorship. Not long after Cole departed his 13th start of the season, the recovery and preparation for his next outing started almost immediately.
Even in early June, there is daily urgency. As various parts and pieces around him come and go, Cole this season is the foundational piece the Yankees were hoping for when they signed him to a $324 million deal before the 2020 season. In picking up Severino, Cole has pitched six times this season after a loss, and the Yankees are 6-0 in those games with Cole posting a 3-0 record and a 2.00 E.R.A.
He is 7-0 with a 2.82 E.R.A. overall this season and is carrying the second-biggest workload in the majors at 79⅔ innings pitched. His 13-start undefeated streak is tied for the third longest to start a Yankees season, behind Ron Guidry (17 in 1978) and Allie Reynolds (15 in 1954). With Nestor Cortes being scratched from his scheduled start against the White Sox on Wednesday with a sore shoulder, Cole stands as the dependable, old-school workhorse that the Yankees can lean on. He pitched through leg cramps on Saturday.
“That’s why he’s the best pitcher in the game,” Judge said. “Day in and day out, that guy takes the ball every five days for us. Feeling great, not feeling good.”
The sentiment was clear: Cole is the Yankees’ most important pitcher, and as this season edges ever deeper, he plays a key role when Boone’s “winning things” happen.
“Walk in the building with an edge, prepare your butt off and go compete,” Boone said. “And rinse and repeat. And they are doing that at a really high level.”