New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole joined the Bronx Bombers this past offseason after putting up impressive numbers with the Houston Astros the previous two seasons. He signed with the Yankees in a record nine-year $324 million contract.
For the Yankees, they hope it’s the first of many records the hard-throwing right-hander sets with the club. However, before he left Houston, Cole did one history-making thing that only became notable because of the pandemic. Here’s a look at that moment, how he achieved it, and how chances are it will likely never be topped.
Gerrit Cole spurned his favorite MLB team out of high school
Gerrit Cole dreamed of playing for the New York Yankees. His father grew up in Syracuse, was a lifelong fan, and passed on that love for the pinstripes. In the 2008 MLB draft, the Yankees selected the star high school pitcher out of LA with the 28th overall selection. It was the dream scenario, or so it seemed.
The Yankees waited until the deadline to sign him and were prepared to offer a $4 million signing bonus. On paper, it looked like a no-brainer. The kid who had grown up a lifelong Yankees fan and dreamed of one day playing for the club was offered millions to do just that. Gerrit Cole declined.
Instead, he stayed in California and followed through on his commitment to play for the UCLA Bruins. It was a stunning turn of events, and one, in hindsight, that worked out for both clubs and reached the same end result, albeit in a much more circuitous manner.
Gerrit Cole’s rise to the top
After turning down the New York Yankees for the Bruins, Gerrit Cole played for UCLA through the 2011 season, including one trip to the College World Series in 2010. The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him in 2011 with the first overall selection, and he began his journey through the minor leagues.
In 2013, a 22-year-old Cole made his MLB debut with the Pirates. He finished an impressive rookie season with a 10-7 record and a more than respectable 3.22 ERA. That was a precursor of things to come. In 2015, Cole made his first and only All-Star appearance with the Pirates, in a season where he finished with a 19-8 record and a stellar 2.60 ERA.
Cole’s dominating performances on the mound caught the attention of other clubs and in 2018, the Pirates decided to part ways with their star pitcher in a trade with the Houston Astros. In Houston, Gerrit Cole became an elite pitcher.
His first season with the Astros he posted a 15-5 record and a 2.88 ERA. He followed that up in 2019 with the best season of his career with a 20-5 record and a 2.50 ERA. He finished second in AL Cy Young Award voting behind teammate Justin Verlander.
Cole owns this bizarre hitting record
When you look behind Gerrit Cole’s numbers for the 2019 season, it’s even more impressive. The 28-year-old led all MLB pitchers in strikeouts with 326, strikeout percentage (39.9%), and strikeouts per nine innings with an incredible rate of 13.8.
While all of Cole’s pitching numbers are impressive, what he did at the end of the season as a hitter is a mark that will likely never be matched. In Game 5 of the World Series on the road against the Washington Nationals with the Astros leading 4-0, Cole stepped up to hit in the top of the 7th inning. He forced Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle to throw five pitches, but ultimately struck out swinging.
Cole’s at-bat at the time appeared unremarkable. Eight months later, on June 29, 2020, it turned out to be history-making. That’s when MLB announced the new rules for the pandemic-shortened season, and one of the key changes was the implementation of the universal designated hitter. That change means for 2020, at a minimum, no pitchers will hit, and Gerrit Cole will go down as the last pitcher to ever hit in a game.
MLB has not said if the universal DH will last just for the 2020 season or extend beyond, but according to various reports, there’s growing momentum for the rule to be used in the NL on a permanent basis. Time will tell what happens, but for the 2020 season, and possibly beyond, the highest-paid pitcher in baseball holds this unique record as a hitter.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.