Whatever else can be said about the Pirates' miserable season, it did at least include the indirect satisfaction of the New York Yankees finishing their season on a Pittsburghian outing (in terms of his Pirates' career) from their "ace," former Pirate Gerrit Cole. Cole's brief stint in the Wildcard Game featured everything we came to dread in his last years in Pittsburgh: A poor workrate, getting lit up early, seeming to right the ship after throwing too many pitches, and then giving up a run in the fourth or fifth inning to add to his earlier arrears, after which he was off to the showers. In this case, he bozoed his way through the first inning, dominated in the second, and flamed out in the third, depriving the Yankees of the 4+ innings he became so dependable for in Pittsburgh. Indeed, you could set your watch by him. (To be clear, I don't take any satisfaction from the Yankees' losing; it's when Cole loses that Schadenfreude takes over.)
Strangely, none of this ever penetrated the overall impression, bolstered by Cole's own remarks about himself, that he is one of a few elite pitchers in baseball, and by his own description, the very best, as evidenced by his salary demands. True, he did have a big year in Houston, but by and large, he remains the Fool's Gold of Major League Baseball, seldom returning value for money (given the amounts involved), and offering as his only real outstanding skill the fact that his teams are seldom out of a game; that is, he rarely gets completely shelled. Certainly he has natural talent in abundance, though never matched by his sense of self, and he is a good pitcher. But he's not great. For a Yankees' pitcher, particularly a top starter, to be unable to solve Fenway Park makes him surplus to requirements, and not rising to the occasion in a big game (as was the case six years ago when he failed to match a pitcher with 1/10 of Cole's talent, Jake Arrieta) makes him a faux ace, not a real one.
For once, Bob Nutting's hands are clean (mostly). As always, happy to spend on prospects, Nutting dug into the sock to sign Cole, and had no choice but to trade him when it became clear that Cole was never going to provide the kind of pitching the Pirates saw in his first two full seasons. Not surprisingly, Nutting's sin was not trading Cole; it was trading Joe Musgrove, acquired for Cole, because Musgrove cost too much.
It was all too familiar; Cole flopping in a Wildcard Game, a quick end to the season, and his manager making excuses for him. Clint Hurdle had an excuse for most occasions, but Aaron Boone's was sublime. After saving Cole for the playoff game, fully aware that Cole's record against Boston is dismal, Boone said after the game that it was a "grind" for Cole. A grind for Cole? Two innings? Well, never mind the rest of the pitching staff, who had to bail out their "ace" after he couldn't do his job.
Did Cole try his best? Sort of. But he was not at his best, and when you demand, and receive, the top salary at your position, more is required; certainly a hell of a lot more than this. To be clear, his job, the thing that he gets paid so much for, is to show up, ready to pitch at a high level, something he was not ready to do in the Arrieta game either. He is expected to shut down opposing teams, to pitch deep into games, and to be at his best when it matters the most. He chose not to do any of those things. What he chose was a bad night to have a bad game. What he chose was to be ineffective against the team New York must beat, literally and figuratively, to win in the postseason. As today's Daily News cover reads, "$324 million for that?!" Yep.
Perhaps Cole, and the Yankees, thought their season would last longer. After all, the Pirates are one of the few teams for whom, year in and year out, it is possible for the manager, coaches, and announcers to plan their vacation as soon as the schedule is released, because they know they won't be playing after the Home-and-Away season concludes. And so, after all the money they've spent, and after acquiring any number of ex-Pirates, the Yankees now see their season come to an inglorious end, just one day after the Pirates. This will, of course, only add to Bob Nutting's conviction that he is in the right, but the Schadenfreude about Cole almost makes up for it.