BUFFALO — Gerrit Cole proved he could still pitch like an ace in the changing baseball universe.
He mostly held down a powerful Toronto lineup over eight innings Wednesday, while admittedly having a difficult time gripping the ball.
The right-hander pitched well enough that with the help of a huge go-ahead, pinch-hit homer from Gary Sanchez in the seventh, the Yankees beat the Blue Jays for a second straight night at Sahlen Field, 3-2.
“I alluded to it answering the questions beforehand,’’ Cole said of his previous non-answers about MLB’s looming crackdown on foreign substances, set to begin Monday. “We’re all just trying to play by the rules. Spin rate’s not everything. You can still pitch well without it.”
But he also made several appeals to the Commissioner’s Office, pleading with it to keep an open line of communication.
“For Pete’s sake, almost every player on the field has something to help them control the ball,’’ Cole said. “I don’t have a solution. We know you have the hammer here. We’ve been living in a grey area so long.”
Because of Cole, Sanchez started the game on the bench.
But when the Yankees needed runs, they turned to the resurgent Sanchez in the seventh, and he delivered with a 446-foot blast off Ross Stripling.
As he circled the bases, another pro-Yankees crowd chanted, “Gary, Gary!”
“He lost playing time about a month ago and kept working,’’ Aaron Boone said. “He’s a great teammate. … He had the courage to make adjustments [with his swing] and he’s getting some rewards now.”
Sanchez wasn’t done.
Aroldis Chapman got into a jam in the bottom of the ninth, allowing a leadoff single by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and a double by Teoscar Hernandez.
He struck out Randal Grichuk and got pinch-hitter Santiago Espinal to hit a comebacker. But Chapman threw home too quickly. Sanchez made a strong throw to third and just got Guerrero for the second out. Chapman then got Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to fly out to end the game.
Cole did much of the rest in what was his last start before MLB begins its crackdown on pitchers using foreign substances. His spin rate was down again and he gave up two more homers, but that was the only damage Toronto did against him, as Cole allowed two runs in eight innings.
He struck out just four, but was effective and didn’t allow a hit after the fifth inning.
The Yankees had a chance to give Cole a big early lead, loading the bases with no one out in the first, but they only got a Giancarlo Stanton sacrifice fly.
Cole then gave up a leadoff homer to Marcus Semien in the bottom of the inning to tie the game.
He allowed a second solo homer in the bottom of the fifth, a one-out blast from Cavan Biggio to give the Blue Jays a 2-1 lead.
Stripling, meanwhile, cruised into the seventh.
The right-hander retired 14 in a row after walking Gleyber Torres in the first
The Yankees’ next hit didn’t come until Miguel Andujar opened the seventh with a single down the right-field line.
After Rougned Odor struck out looking, Sanchez pinch hit for Kyle Higashioka and crushed a two-run shot.
Cole didn’t have much of a reaction on the bench and said following the game he felt “a serious surge of adrenaline and [thought], ‘I better lock it in. He hit into the night, a majestic shot, I’ve got to get focused. I need a shutdown inning here.’ ”
Boone said before and after the game there is no consideration of pairing Cole with Sanchez.
However, Cole pitched to Sanchez for his final two innings and Sanchez got Chapman through the ninth.