TORONTO — Gerrit Cole had a shot at perfection through five innings Wednesday night, retiring the first 15 batters he faced.
Then the 16th batter tagged Cole for yet another home run, the start of a sixth inning that began to unravel for the Yankees right-hander before he eventually pulled it together and got out of the jam.
Despite blowing a three-run lead, Cole avoided further damage and the Yankees went on to beat the Blue Jays 8-3 at Rogers Centre on the back of Aaron Judge’s 61st home run.
In his penultimate start of the regular season, Cole threw 6 ¹/₃ innings and gave up three runs on three hits and one walk while striking out four. In the process, he tied Ron Guidry for the Yankees’ single-season strikeout record of 248. Guidry set the record in 1978, and Cole will have a chance to break it in his regular-season finale against the Rangers next week.
“I think it’s more special because of what Aaron did tonight, to be honest,” said Cole, who had the record-tying strikeout ball safely secured in a sock. “It’s a really special number. Guidry was so good for us and so magical. His record held for so long. I don’t think you dream of it, but to be mentioned in the same category as the Yankees legends, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around it at this point.”
Cole was dominant to start the night, throwing five perfect innings on 54 pitches.
But Danny Jansen broke up the perfect-game bid to lead off the sixth inning, when he drilled a slider down the middle for his 14th home run to pull the Blue Jays within 3-1. It was the 32nd home run Cole has allowed this season, a career-high that is also the second-most given up by any pitcher in the major leagues this year, trailing Nationals right-hander Josiah Gray (38).
By clinching at least the No. 2 seed in the American League on Tuesday, the Yankees also guaranteed themselves a first round bye, which means they’ll have five days off before they play host to the ALDS.
It’s an unusual amount of time off, and while manager Aaron Boone said the team hasn’t gotten too deep into roster decisions, the Yankees have begun planning out how they intend to use that time.
“Right now, our first order of business is to map out the days off in between the end of the regular season and the start of the division series,’’ Boone said.
They will have simulated games at Yankee Stadium, with minor leaguers throwing live batting practice.
“We look forward to using it to our advantage and that this is gonna be a good thing for us,’’ Boone said. “We’ll try to stay as sharp as we can as we wait on an opponent.”
The decisions about final roster spots, Boone said, will be at least somewhat based on who their opponent ends up being.
“This is an opportunity in the final week of the season for some guys to get some reps and help us make those decisions, based on where we think guys are,’’ Boone said.
Among those players are Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton.
Britton, in his second appearance since returning from UCL surgery, was shaky again Wednesday, as he walked two of the three batters he faced. Chapman tossed an impressive ninth after three subpar outings.
DJ LeMahieu is expected to play Friday in The Bronx to test out his ability to work through the discomfort caused by toe inflammation in his right foot.
He went through another full workout before the game Wednesday, and Boone said if all goes well, he’ll “give it a go” against Baltimore.
LeMahieu hasn’t played since Sept. 4 and went 0-for-15 in his last four games before hitting the IL. Dating to Aug. 9, he’s just 10-for-78 with no extra-base hits over a 20-game stretch.
He won’t be at 100 percent at any point this season, so the Yankees want to see what he’s able to do.
The slumping Giancarlo Stanton didn’t play Wednesday and Boone said playing him in the outfield at any point the rest of the way is something they haven’t discussed.
“We haven’t crossed the outfield bridge at all,’’ Boone said. “We’re just trying to get him on track offensively.”
The Yankees won 100 games in each of Boone’s first two seasons and they have a chance to get there again this year.
Boone said he hopes they get there, but his eyes are on different goals.
“I’d love to see it, but there are other, more important, things right now …”
Anthony Rizzo was among the regulars to get Wednesday off and Boone had the first baseman on his coaching staff, with the division clinched. “He helped with putting the lineup together.
With Hurricane Ian hitting Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday, the Yankees used Steinbrenner Field in Tampa as a shelter for any employees or minor league players that lived in the area.