Gerrit Cole’s real Yankees quest begins now: Sherman

CC Sabathia aced his time in New York. He pitched brilliantly in his first postseason in The Bronx and bookended that in his last by literally throwing his shoulder out of its socket chasing another title.

He honored all that went into his recruitment and paycheck with greatness and grit. So the standing ovation lasted throughout his Yankee tenure — and into retirement. Sabathia came from Cleveland with a stopover in Milwaukee before becoming embedded in Yankee lore. It always feels both nebulous and arrogant when the organization talks “True Yankee,” but if it has meaning, Sabathia is one; interesting since he had to be talked into coming, helped, of course, by a then-record paycheck for a pitcher.

Gerrit Cole needed no cajoling. He grew up a fan of the team, watching a bunch of True Yankees forge a dynasty. He detoured through Pittsburgh and Houston before receiving the record deal. At his introductory press conference last December, Cole held the sign — “Yankee Fan Today Tomorrow Forever” — he had brandished at the 2001 Yankees-Diamondbacks World Series and opened the proceedings by stating, “I’m here, I’ve always been here.”

It was meant to say this was his destiny — to be a Yankee. But destiny is a tricky partner.

Cole more than just about any Yankees import from when George Steinbrenner opened his wallet for Catfish Hunter to now understands the rules of engagement. He just went 7-3 with a 2.84 ERA in the preseason. The real Yankee season begins Tuesday primetime — Cole vs. Shane Bieber.

Cole was brought here to be Sabathia. The Yankees had missed the playoffs in 2008 for the first time since 1993 and were opening in a stadium in 2009. They had gone almost the whole decade, since 2000, without a title. Brian Cashman chased Sabathia to end that, literally getting on a plane during the 2008 Winter Meetings to fly to Sabathia’s northern California home to make the appeal in person, to make sure he didn’t leave without his difference maker.

The Yankees played the 2010s without even reaching a World Series, the first time that had occurred in a century. They were eliminated one step short last year by Cole’s Astros. So without a title since the one Sabathia helped pitch the Yanks to in 2009, Cashman flew to California again to woo Cole in person. The GM would describe the righty as his “white whale,” having failed to secure Cole via the draft or trade and not willing to let this one go.

Contract concepts were torn up and finally at nine years at $324 million — considerably further than they initially thought they would have to go — the Yanks landed Cole. It was for this time.

For between when Sabathia’s ace light began to flicker and now, the Yanks tried a lot of avenues. They once thought Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes could rise to ace. They hoped that for Masahiro Tanaka and later for Luis Severino. They watched imports with stuff such as Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda and Sonny Gray leave with their stuff but not top-of-the-rotation success.

Cole ended the guesswork. There were no projections from Japan or out of the minors or if stuff could translate to success. Cole was among the best two or three starters in the world in his prime. The Yankees got him to stop getting close to rings as occurred from 2017-19.

But that is quite a weight this postseason. The Yankees have lots of flaws. Their lineup lacks diversity — they either hit homers or struggle. Their defense can be a sieve. Beyond the dependable Tanaka, the rest of the rotation is guesswork. Of course, the season can be over by Wednesday night with the Yanks having used just Cole and Tanaka.

If it goes on, though, Cole is going to be asked to be Sabathia. In that 2009 postseason, Sabathia had a 1.98 ERA and the Yanks were 4-1 when he pitched. He twice went on three day’s rest, a postseason schedule with a ludicrous amount of off-days allowing the Yanks to never use even their suspect fourth starter.

Ironically, the Yanks might ask Cole to pitch short in this novel postseason that has essentially removed off-days — none in the wild-card round, Division Series or LCS — to avoid using a fifth starter. No matter what, they will ask a lot of their No. 1 starter trying to get that elusive title.

Cole’s real season — the reasons he is here — now begins.

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