Cole allowed two runs and six hits while striking out 13 in seven innings of work and led the Yankees to a commanding 12-3 victory. On the other side, Shane Bieber looked like a shell of his typical self and allowed seven earned runs and nine hits in 4.2 innings.
"This is why we got him," Yankees slugger Aaron Judge told reporters when talking about Cole. "We didn't get him to throw in April, we didn't get him to throw in May."
New York "got" Cole in December when it agreed to terms on a stunning nine-year, $324 million deal with the right-hander.
The three-time All-Star was excellent during the regular season and finished with a 2.84 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 94 strikeouts in 73 innings of work, which marked his third consecutive year with an ERA below 3.00.
Still, the possibility of throwing Cole in the playoffs surely stood out to a powerhouse like New York, which is exactly what Judge said. The right-hander made five appearances in the playoffs last season on the Houston Astros and finished with a 1.72 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 47 strikeouts in 36.2 innings while helping lead his team to the World Series.
He picked up right where he left off in his first postseason chance this year, moving the Yankees to within a single win of the American League Division Series.
It was far from a solo effort, as the offense exploded against Bieber and Cleveland's bullpen.
New York finished with four home runs, including Judge's blast in the top of the first inning to set the tone. He launched a Bieber pitch into right-center field to give the Bronx Bombers a 2-0 lead, and they never looked back.
The Yankees will now look to win the best-of-three series in Wednesday's Game 2 and then reset the rotation so Cole can once again remind fans why they signed him in the next round.