Gerrit Cole showed why the New York Yankees made him baseball's best-paid pitcher as he "had so much fun" in a 4-1 rain-curtailed win over the Washington Nationals on Opening Day.
The former Houston Astros star joined the Yankees in December on a nine-year contract worth $324million, but he has had to be patient in waiting for his first competitive game in the pinstripes.
Cole looked sharp as the Yankees outmatched last year's World Series champions, who edged out the Astros to land the championship.
An early two-run homer from slugger Giancarlo Stanton put the Yankees in charge, and Cole showed impressive discipline to keep the Nationals at bay.
Speaking afterwards, Cole said: “I was so excited. I was walking through the clubhouse before, and I saw a bunch of guys in Yankees uniforms. It just hit me that this was for real.
"I was definitely battling some adrenaline early, trying to hone the timing and the sync with kind of a new surge. I had so much fun being a part of it."
Playing behind closed doors did not prevent it being a special day for the 29-year-old Cole.
"It was just different," he told a post-game news conference. "There are negatives about it relative to what Opening Day would normally be like, but I had so much fun, so I wasn't focusing on any of those things.
"It was different without the fans for sure, a bit challenging maybe at times when you're scanning typically the crowd and you're scanning empty seats, but we had a blast, the dugout was great."
Washington, G.C. pic.twitter.com/09ehcwqf6f— New York Yankees (@Yankees) July 24, 2020
Yankees manager Aaron Boone was glad to tick off a positive start to the delayed season, postponed from its scheduled March 26 start due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Reflecting on Cole's performance, Boone said: "It was really good to see him out there and I really felt he improved as he went and reined it in a little bit.
"He was probably fighting all the excitement and the build-up to this day and I thought he made a lot of really big pitches, especially some pitches when he was behind in the count."
Stanton delighted Boone by going deep early on, giving the Yankees an advantage they were able to build on, with the game being truncated in the sixth inning due to stormy weather.
"It's about as good as you can draw it up, starting the game that way," Boone said. "For G to go out there and clean it out, that's a huge shot in the arm when you're facing another team's ace and you've got your ace on the mound. So, great tone setter for us in that first inning by G."
Like Cole, Boone said the Yankees were able to focus and ignore the empty seats inside Nationals Park.
"I find when the game starts it feels like a game and it's easy to lock in," Boone said.
"There's something you don't do normally, like you don't have your normal physical interaction with people, but I found it very easy to get locked into the game."
Boone admitted to having "a lot of butterflies", but the confident way the Yankees went about their task meant they were soon banished.
"Our guys came out with an edge and you could sense that in the dugout," Boone said.