Many firsts for Nestor Cortes this year

Nestor Cortes

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NEW YORK — Nestor Cortes, the left-handed Yankees fan-favorite, has had a year of many firsts. He got his first spot on an All-Star team. He went over 100 innings for the first time, then 125, then 150, and ended the season with 158 1/3 innings that made him a star. On Friday, he also made his first start in the postseason. In a game that the Yankees lost, he held Cleveland to two runs over five innings.

With Monday’s rain washing away the original plan for Game 5, the Yankees were happy to give the ball to Cortes on Tuesday afternoon, after he had had three days off. It’s an amazing story for someone who was put on waiver by the Orioles in 2018 and had a terrible ERA of 6.66 in 2019 and 2020.

Even the worst baseball team at the time, the 2018 Orioles, didn’t want him. Four years later, Cortes has changed into a pitcher who can be counted on not only in a winner-take-all game but also for one of the most-watched teams in the sport at Yankee Stadium, which is like a pressure cooker. Since Game 5 was moved back about 20 hours, Aaron Boone, the manager, chose Cortes to go through the Guardians’ lineup at the start of the game. If the Yankees and Guardians had been able to play on Monday, Cortes might have come out of the bullpen at some point to try to carry the Yankees to victory in Houston.

Now that the Yankees and Cortes are done with their rough series against Cleveland and are moving on to play the Astros, they must be happy with how Cortes pitched on Tuesday. On three days’ rest, he threw 61 pitches and got through five innings, giving up only three hits and one run.

Boone said before the game that he didn’t think Cortes would go very deep. Five good innings definitely gave the manager a nice boost.

“I just don’t think we need a lot of length from them,” Boone said. “The only good thing that came out of yesterday was that it gave me another day off for the relievers.”

That break helped Clay Holmes for sure. He was supposed to pitch on Sunday, but it rained out, so he could pitch again on Tuesday instead of having to go on two days in a row. Holmes’s response to that extra day was to pitch a scoreless eighth inning in Game 5, which helped the team win. Wandy Peralta pitched in each of the first four games, so even for a pitcher known for having rubber arms, a short break was likely welcome. He ended up getting the last three outs on Tuesday, making him one of the unlikely pitching heroes of this crazy series. He was also the first pitcher in Division Series history to play in all five games. At the end of the series, he had seven strikeouts, no walks, and only two earned runs.

In an “all-hands-on-deck” situation, more than one pitcher may be asked to do something they don’t know how to do. But now that it’s the playoffs, the routine has to give way to what needs to be done. For example, Jonathan Loaisiga threw two innings and brought the Yankees closer to the win. Loaisiga finished a two-inning relief appearance on Tuesday, which was the second time all season that he did so.

“You try and get what you think is the best guy in the best spot,” Boone explained. “So I don’t stress that much about that. You know, I feel like we are set up good today. I’m excited to see these guys go out and do their thing.”

Before the game, Boone said he would have been willing to use Gerrit Cole at the end of the game. Even though Cole was warming up in the bullpen during the ninth inning, the Yankees’ four-run lead after five innings and the extra innings they got from Cortes made that irrelevant.

Boone said of his ace, “He’s tough and, you know, mechanically really good.” He is also very honest about where he is and other things. In this way, he’s good to talk to.”

If Game 5 had been played on Monday, Jameson Taillon would have started. Instead, he will start Game 1 in Houston on Wednesday.

Nestor Cortes came through for the New York Yankees when it was most important. The mustachioed mound assassin had a great and memorable game Tuesday night against the Cleveland Guardians. In 5.0 innings of work, Cortes gave up only one earned run on three hits, and the Yankees thrash Cleveland 5-1. With that, Cortes joins a small group of Yankees pitchers like Gerrit Cole, CC Sabathia, and Andy Pettitte who also have a lot of records.

According to ESPN Stats and Info:

“Nestor Cortes is the 4th different Yankees starting pitcher in the postseason in the Wild Card Era (since 1995) to allow 1 or 0 runs in 5 innings pitched on three days rest. The others: Gerrit Cole, C.C. Sabathia, and Andy Pettitte.”

Cortes pitched Game 5 with only three days of rest. This makes his performance look even better. Jameson Taillon was supposed to start Game 5 on Monday, but it rained, and had to be moved to Tuesday. This gave the Yankees a chance to send out their All-Star pitcher on Tuesday.

The Yankees will play the Houston Astros in the next game of the American League Championship Series. The Astros have had a lot of time to rest since they swept the Seattle Mariners in the ALDS and because the Yankees’ ALDS against the Guardians was delayed.

Cortes and the Yankees can celebrate for now before putting all of their focus on the Astros. Since 2009, New York hasn’t won the World Series, and they’d love to end that streak this year.

Lemahieu ready for ALCS

DJ LeMahieu, who broke his foot, took batting practice with his teammates on the field before Game 5. He looked like himself. On his way off the field, the infielder who was out for most of September and only played in five close games at the end of the season gave an update on his health. LeMahieu was optimistic when asked if he felt well enough to play in a possible American League Championship Series.

He said, “I’m hoping so.” “I feel a little bit better. I feel good after some rest.”

Will Nestor Cortes emerge as the Yankees’ x-factor for the ALCS against the Astros?

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