For 5 ¹/₃ innings Thursday night, Gerrit Cole no longer was battling the Blue Jays for the game or his American League contemporaries for the Cy Young.
However briefly, he was competing with legends of the past for a place in baseball history.
Cole’s early bid for the 25th perfect game in MLB history fell 11 outs short, so he probably will have to settle for a Cy Young.
In an outing that was merely dominant, Cole began to put the finishing touches on a season that seems destined to end with the AL Cy Young Award, which would be his first in a brilliant, 11-year career.
The Yankees ace allowed one run on just two hits, striking out nine and walking none, in eight innings during a 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays.
An announced crowd of 37,646 in The Bronx witnessed more excellence from one of the few excellent Yankees in an otherwise lost season.
Cole recorded 16 straight outs to begin the game before Alejandro Kirk smacked a legitimate, hard-hit double to right-center with one out in the sixth inning.
If Cole were upset, he channeled any emotion toward ensuring Kirk remained right there.
Cole struck out Kevin Kiermaier on four pitches before inducing a ground out from George Springer.
The Blue Jays squeaked across a run in the eighth, when Matt Chapman doubled, moved to third on a fly out and scored on a spiked slider from Cole that bounced past catcher Ben Rortvedt.
But Cole retook the mound and recorded his final two outs of the inning.
After his 107th and final pitch, he walked toward the dugout and tipped his cap to a standing ovation from the crowd.
The Yankees (77-76) avoided a sweep, powered by a three-run home run from Jake Bauers and RBI doubles from Estevan Florial and Aaron Judge.
Clay Holmes allowed two runs in the ninth (one earned), but preserved Cole’s masterpiece, escaping by getting Spencer Horwitz, who represented the go-ahead run, to ground out for the final out.
Cole did not need much from his supporting cast on what was expected to be his penultimate outing of the season.
Cole is expected to make one more start — next week in Toronto against the Blue Jays, who have scored one run in 19 ²/₃ innings this season against the 33-year-old righty — in which he can make one last statement, though it might not be needed.
He lowered his ERA to a league-best 2.75 while stretching his innings pitched to an AL-best 200, hitting that milestone number for a second straight season.
Cole’s competition for the AL award includes Minnesota’s Sonny Gray (2.84 ERA in 174 innings), Seattle’s Luis Castillo (3.06 ERA in 188 ¹/₃ innings) and Toronto’s Kevin Gausman (3.29 ERA in 178 innings, with a league-best 232 strikeouts), who shut down the Yankees for six innings Wednesday.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said there has been Cy Young talk around the clubhouse, but Cole is simply trying to “finish what’s been an awesome season.”
A near perfect night brought that season a step closer to what appears to be an award-winning culmination.