Gerrit Cole sat in the Yankees’ dugout Tuesday night and watched his former Astros teammates get bombarded by boos and chants.
Thursday, he’ll get the chance to face them for the first time since he left Houston for The Bronx.
“It’s a bit weird,” Cole said Wednesday of preparing to face a lineup he knows so well. “The experience I’ve drawn on is that they’re good hitters. … There’s a lot of talent, so I’m not going to be too hard on myself in terms of if I don’t execute a pitch and I get punished. There’s a lot of talent and a lot of good approaches, so I’m going to have no other choice but to be on top of my game and try to attack the strike zone.”
Cole was not on the 2017 Astros team that was at the center of the illegal sign-stealing program uncovered by an MLB investigation. He arrived in 2018 in a trade from the Pirates and played two seasons in Houston before parlaying his success there into a $324 million deal with the Yankees.
Still, after questions persisted last spring about whether the Astros had continued to cheat in 2018 or 2019, Cole insisted then he had no knowledge of any illegal practices.
Regardless, that put him in a unique position for Tuesday’s hostile atmosphere.
“I think it was an emotional night for everybody that was involved,” Cole said. “There was emotion on our side coming into the ballpark. Certainly I expected the same thing from them. And then the fans have their emotions that they need to express. It is what it is.
“I think as players, our job is to try to do our job the best we can and not listen to the crowd, whether it be good or bad. The environment was hostile, emotional. I don’t expect that to change in the next few games.”
In Houston, Cole quickly became a co-ace with Justin Verlander as he refined his craft with pitching coach Brent Strom. In two seasons as an Astro, Cole went 35-10 with a 2.68 ERA and 602 strikeouts across 65 starts. Wednesday, he called it “a really special time in my career.”
Cole, who is coming off a dominant April in which he went 4-1 with a 1.43 ERA and 62 strikeouts and three walks, knows what he’ll be up against Thursday facing a lineup that largely remains intact from the last time he wore an Astros uniform.
“Tremendous lineup,” said Cole, who will be squaring off against Lance McCullers Jr. “Top six guys have really been swinging the bat well. Good OPS across the board. [Tuesday] night was a good demonstration of the quality at-bats from the first inning through the ninth inning, which is exactly what I remember.”
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