Detroit — As matchups on paper go, it would be hard to come up with one more one-sided than this: One of the premier fastball pitchers against by far the worst fastball hitting team in baseball.
Yankees’ starter Gerrit Cole came into the game Wednesday holding hitters to a .209 batting average against his 97-mph four-seam fastball. In terms of run value, as defined by Statcast, Cole’s heater is a plus-22, among the best in the game.
The Tigers’ conversely, have the game’s worst fastball run value, minus-65. The Athletics are next worst at minus-47. The Braves, to put it in context, are the best fastball hitting team with a run value of 80.
Cole didn’t bully the Tigers with his fastball like he has in the past. He just beat them with it.
The Yankees, who had lost 20 of their last 28 games coming in, won their third straight, cruising to a 6-2 win at Comerica Park, extending the Tigers’ losing streak to five games.
Detroit is 15 games under .500 (59-74) for the first time this season.
“Once we got punched early in the game, it played right into his demeanor and dominance,” manager AJ Hinch said.
Cole, 8-1 in his career against the Tigers with a 1.93 ERA, didn’t have anywhere near his best fastball Wednesday. The average velocity, normally 96.8 mph was down to 95.5, with less ride through the zone. He threw 49 of them in his six innings and got one swing and miss on 24 swings.
“He doesn’t need his velo to be good,” Hinch said. “He’s a good pitcher. He can get creative. He will read swings. He will tease you with two strikes. He dialed it up a little bit when he needed to, but he just pitches. He pitches when he’s got elite velo and he pitches when he’s got mid-level velo for him.”
To Hinch’s point, the Tigers mustered just three hits off Cole’s fastball and four total.
Two of the hits, though, left the yard.
Jake Rogers hit a 95-mph heater over the right-field wall in the third inning. It was his 16th home run. Then in the sixth, Spencer Torkelson turned on a 95-mph heater and pulled it 402 feet into the seats in left. No. 24 for Torkelson.
The two homers doubled the Tigers’ total against Cole in his career. Before Wednesday, per MLB.com research, only Mikie Mahtook (2017) and James McCann (2018) had homered against him.
The bigger concern from this game, though, was how the Yankees smartly exploited one of the more befuddling tendencies of Tigers’ pitching – an inattentiveness to base runners. Twice, Yankees runners stole a base without a throw. Each time the uncontested steal led to a run.
“We’ve got to get better at that,” Hinch said. “And that’s on me and the coaches to find a way to improve that. Because we knew going in that was part of their game and we talked to everybody, to the coaches and the players.”
Rookie right-hander Brendan White opened the game and despite striking out the first two batters (DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge), he didn’t finish the first inning.
“I was attacking, I was aggressive and I was executing pitches,” said White, who made his second appearance as an opener. “I was happy with those two at-bats. Obviously, I fell off from there.”
He walked Gleyber Torres and never once looked at him after he got on first base. Torres broke for second before White even started his delivery. He could have walked into second base. Catcher Rogers didn’t even bother with a token throw.
“As soon as I lifted my leg I heard Tork or someone say, ‘Step off,'” White said. “My cadence and my timing was too consistent and they picked up on that and ran on me.”
Next hitter, Giancarlo Stanton rolled a single to right field, scoring Torres.
The inning quickly got away from White. He hit Anthony Volpe on a 1-2 pitch, gave up a single to Harrison Bader to load the bases and then hit Everson Pereira to force in the second run of the inning.
“I would just say a lack of execution,” White said. “I felt good physically. I liked the pitch calling. I just didn’t put the ball where I needed to.”
Lefty Joey Wentz got the final out in the first but gave up a solo homer to LeMahieu in the second inning.
Volpe led off the third inning with a double and then stole third base without a throw. Again, just as Torres had done, he was halfway to third before Wentz went into his delivery.
And because Volpe was on third, the Tigers’ infield was pulled in for Pereira, who snuck an RBI ground ball past a diving Matt Vierling at third base.
“We’ve got to do a better job when we know they are one of the first teams to do that hop-and-jump (lead),” Hinch said. “When they time it up, they go. Gleyber, when he gets on first base he’s been kind of guessing and going and he’s guessed right a couple of times. Volpe, going second to third — after a leadoff double, bank on it. It’s going to happen.
“They’ve been doing it the entire season. They did it in spring training. It’s part of the game we need to clean up. We got exploited tonight.”
The Yankees ended up stealing four bases.
The free bases helped the Yankees build an early lead. Their thunder put the game away.
For the second time in the series, Torres and Stanton hit back-to-back homers. This time they came with two outs in the fourth, both opposite-field missiles, off Wentz. Stanton’s went 425 feet and landed a few rows short of the bricks in right-center.
For the Tigers, other than the two home runs, there was essentially only one other highlight.
It was another spectacular play in center field by rookie Parker Meadows. He took extra bases away from Oswald Peraza in the fifth inning with an over-the-shoulder catch in right-center. According to Statcast, Meadows covered 101 feet at an elite pace of 30 feet per second.