'Legend of Nestor' continues in hot shutout 'W'

Cortes strikes out 7, holds Orioles scoreless for series victory

July 24th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- It was about two hours before the first pitch of Sunday’s steamy 97-degree matinee, and Yankees manager Aaron Boone was surveying the hazy sky in search of cloud cover, pondering hydration. For these conditions (and pretty much any other scenario), he had the right starting pitcher on the lineup card.

Reminded of his South Floridian upbringing with every sweat-soaked trip to the mound, Nestor Cortes made good on his manager’s prediction that he “will be fine,” twirling six scoreless innings as the Bombers notched a series victory with a 6-0 win over the Orioles at Camden Yards.

“There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in the season. If this is our bad part, I’ll take it,” Cortes said. “We’re grinding. I think people should expect the same things that they saw in the first half [during] the second half.”

Supported by Aaron Judge’s Major League-leading 37th homer and Jose Trevino’s first career four-hit game, Cortes and Clarke Schmidt combined to secure the Yankees’ 13th shutout of the season -- tied with the Mets for the most in the Majors, an appropriate note as both clubs look ahead to this week’s Subway Series.

Before the baseball world focuses on that New York-New York showdown, however, the Yankees had business in Charm City. Cortes made sure it was a happy flight home, carrying on after tossing a scoreless, hitless sixth inning with two strikeouts in last week’s All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium.

“I thought his four-seam fastball right away was really sharp,” Boone said. “He commanded it well. The life was there. He was on the attack.”

The left-hander struck out seven without a walk, navigating an early threat when Gleyber Torres -- playing near the left-field wall as a four-man outfield shift -- flubbed an Adley Rutschman drive that was initially scored an error before being changed to a double.

Cortes permitted a hit that moved Rutschman to third base, then struck out Tyler Nevin and Robinson Chirinos to escape unscathed.

“All the stuff he’ll do -- he hides the ball, he hits his corners,” Chirinos, the O's backstop, said. “He’s throwing up and in, back door, he changes his speeds to guys. He’s definitely figured it out over there.”

Baltimore would not move another runner into scoring position against Cortes, who tossed 97 pitches while improving to 2-0 with a 0.46 ERA in four games (three starts) against the O’s at Camden Yards, the park where he made his Major League debut back in 2018.

“I go out there every fifth day like any other team, but for some reason, I have more success against the Orioles,” Cortes said.

When Rutschman reached on a sixth-inning, two-out single, Cortes spotted Boone emerging from the third-base dugout and glanced away, avoiding eye contact. Their conversation was brief -- as Cortes recounted, Boone asked if he could face one more batter.

“Please, let me have this one,” replied Cortes, who induced a Ramón Urías popup, preserving what was a five-run lead at the time.

Said Boone: “I heard what I needed and went on my way.”

After beginning the season 5-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 68 strikeouts through 10 starts, Cortes has had blips where that sheen of dominance wears thin -- starts against the Twins (June 8), Rays (June 21) and Red Sox (July 8) in which he has allowed four runs while lasting fewer than five innings, for example.

But Cortes appears to be on track now, coming off a July 14 start in which the fan favorite locked heads against the Reds’ Luis Castillo to allow one run in seven innings, taking a no-decision against the celebrated trade target.

“I think he holds that weight well,” Schmidt said. “He doesn’t go out there and build the moment up too much. He always seems to come through when you need him most. I think that’s a credit to his confidence. I’m excited to see the stretch he’s going to go on toward the end of the season, especially in the playoffs.”

So is Boone, who often speaks about the growing “legend of Nestor,” about the Hialeah, Fla., product who wears a ‘305’ area code tattoo on his right arm. No doubt, as much as anyone on the field, Cortes was built for this one in the heat.

“It reminded me of Miami,” Cortes said. “It wasn’t too bad.”