At first glance, the 0-2 fastball coming from Gerrit Cole’s right arm soaring over Jose Caballero’s head towards the Yankee Stadium backstop with a spin rate of 2,343 appeared to merely be a blip.
One of those pitches that slipped. At least it seemed that way but not so fast.
Except it was part of a small part of pitch clock era gamesmanship. While Caballero has 109 major league at-bats to his career, many are spent constantly stepping out before returning by the required eight-second mark.
It is such a thing that a video on MLB.com is titled “Jose Caballero pitch clock menace” before showing him mildly agitating the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies and then annoying the Houston Astros so much that is resulted in what passes for a benches clearing incident of standing around and talking.
Things did not escalate to the events of May 7 in Seattle but when Cole notched the strikeout on a 98.2 mph fastball, he most certainly enjoyed it.
The at-bat started with Caballero taking a strike on a curveball and then stepping out. Cole instantly leans back and rolls his eyes. Two pitches later, Caballero shakes off catcher Jose Trevino twice before throwing over the infielder’s head.
“Sometimes a high fastball can be a really effective pitch,” Cole quipped with a straight face. “Got to change eye level,
After reaching a full count, Cole walked off the mound and wagged his right index finger about 15 times to the Seattle dugout. It was in response to whatever manager Scott Servais was yelling in Cole’s direction.
“Their manager had some choice words for me coming off the field and he was wagging his finger at me, so I wagged my finger at him,” Cole said.
This came after Caballero flipped his bat on a foul ball, asked for a timeout that was not granted before the first pitch of the second at-bat. Caballero was granted the timeout after the 1-2 pitch and Cole grabbed the rosin bag before throwing a 99 mph fastball that led to a broken bat single prompting a look of disgust from the mound.
“He didn’t like the way I was manipulating the pitch clock, but he just got excited,” Caballero said. “So that’s good. Like I always say, the rules are there for all of us, and I just had to be ready at eight seconds and that’s what I’m doing.
“That’s my routine. I’m just going to continue doing what I feel good doing, and I hope they get used to it, you know? Like I always say, I’m battling against him and he’s battling against me and he won. He can celebrate.”
Servais’ take on the situation was more of a defense or an appreciation of Caballero’s attempts to disrupt rhythm as best as anyone can in the new pitch clock era that is a little over two months old.
“He plays it by the rules,” Servais said after the Yankees and Mariners took 129 minutes to get things done. “He gets in there and obviously others didn’t think it was right. But Cabby has done that since it’s been in the big leagues. He’s not going to change how he plays.”
Regardless of the wagging, the Yankees got what they needed from Cole. Cole is 4-0 with a 1.87 ERA when pitching after a loss and the Yankees are 7-0 in those games.
And this game occurred after the Yankees lost four straight games in frustrating fashion. First they blew a late lead to the Mets last Wednesday, then got blown out Friday in Boston and finished off a disastrous weekend by getting nine hits and three runs in a doubleheader sweep.
That led to general manager Brian Cashman emerging for a second lengthy sitdown with media after watching various members of his roster take early batting practice.
“I’ve been through these wars enough to know that you’ve got to deal with the ups and downs the same way,” Cashman said. “We’ve got a really good team when we’re flying high and playing the way we’re capable of. Right now, we haven’t been doing that, so it looks bad. It feels bad, it tastes bad. No one likes losing, so I understand why the fans are upset.”
Cole did what he is capable of and one bit of gamesmanship and finger wagging led to one of the more enjoyable nights the Yankees have experienced since Aaron Judge crashed into the right wall at Dodger Stadium.