NEW YORK — Juan Soto hobbled at the plate after fouling a Randy Vásquez sinker off his left knee. Momentarily shaken up, Soto eventually ambled back into the box on a 3-2 count. The next pitch he saw was sent, violently, into the right-field second deck at Yankee Stadium, 432 feet away and 114.1 mph off his bat.
That two-run missile in the fifth inning Friday night marked Soto’s 10th home run of the year and gave the Padres the lead over the Yankees. When, the following inning, Fernando Tatis Jr. cranked a 439-foot shot — another two-run home run into the second deck, this time in left field — it looked like maybe, just maybe, the Padres were back. The Yankees couldn’t overcome the deficit, falling 5-1.
That Friday night, the Padres went back to their New York City midtown hotel feeling optimistic, having managed to win four of their last five games up to that point.
“I was a little mad,” Soto said on Friday. “I fouled it off myself. I don’t like that. Then he threw me the same pitch, trying to make me foul it off again. I was a little [ticked] off. I just took all my madness out on the ball.”
The Padres (24-29) took game one of the series on Soto and Tatis home runs that combined for 871 feet. The Yankees (32-23) took game two on yet another dramatic come-from-behind, walk-off victory to force a rubber match on Memorial Day weekend in the Bronx.
It was all building toward what was, on paper, expected to be a pitching duel between a couple of long-time Cy Young contenders who have come close to winning the prestigious award, but have yet to lock down the honor. Expectations don’t always go as planned and Sunday’s matinee was no exception.
Yu Darvish and Gerrit Cole combined to allow 12 earned runs in just 8.2 innings. Darvish (3-4, 4.61 ERA) didn’t make it past the third inning as the Yankees lineup completed a seven-run rally that forced manager Bob Melvin to take his ace out of the game before he could even record his ninth out of the afternoon. Cole (6-0, 2.93 ERA) wasn’t at his best either, as his recent tendency to give up multiple home runs stretched into yet another outing. Still, he racked up nine strikeouts against San Diego and the Yankees improved to 10-2 when he’s on the mound this season.
With a major-league-leading 12 starts and 73.2 innings logged, and one-third of the season in the books, Cole’s strikeout rate is the lowest it’s been since his 2017 season with the Pirates. Following a steady 34.9% strikeout rate from 2018-2022, Cole has a 26.3% K rate so far this year. His walks are also up, jumping from a 6.3% walk rate last year to a 8.6% rate this season. And all of this after a spectacular first month of outings that made it appear like Cole was going to run away with the American League Cy Young award this year.
There’s still time for the Yankees ace to make adjustments and get back to that April performance level (0 HR, 5 ER, 40.2 IP, 1.11 ERA). Cole and Rays left-hander Shane McClanahan are the only two pitchers to go 6-0 or better this year.
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for three-and-a-half seasons as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. She never misses a Rafael Nadal match, no matter what country or time zone he’s playing in. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.