Battling injury, Cortes burned by one big swing

October 24th, 2022

NEW YORK -- On Oct. 18, Nestor Cortes threw five innings of one-run ball in the Yankees’ decisive win over the Guardians in Game 5 of the ALDS.

His second start in an elimination game this postseason didn’t go as well. The budding Yankees ace departed with a left groin injury in the third inning of Game 4 of the ALCS on Sunday night, a 6-5 Yankees loss that gave the Astros a series sweep, after surrendering a three-run home run to Jeremy Peña.

“It gradually got worse,” Cortes said. “It started locking up on me there in the third. I felt [that] I felt good enough to compete. I don't think, you know, that homer was because I was hurting. He just put a good swing to it.”

After opening his start with two shutout innings, Cortes opened the third inning with back-to-back walks to Martín Maldonado and Jose Altuve before giving up the long ball to Peña.

Manager Aaron Boone visited the mound with a trainer after Maldonado’s walk, but elected not to pull Cortes. After Peña sent his game-tying home run 408 feet into the bleachers, Boone and a trainer once again visited the mound and pulled Cortes.

Cortes finished his outing with 55 pitches. His fastball velocity was down 1.6 mph from his yearly average of 91.8 mph. His cutter velocity was also down 1.5 mph.

It was an unfortunate way to end a stellar season.

Cortes, who had struggled to find consistency on the bump before 2021, posted a 2.44 ERA and an 0.922 WHIP with 163 strikeouts over 158 1/3 innings in the 2022 regular season, numbers that should at least have him in the conversation for the AL Cy Young Award. His strong outing in Game 5 of the Division Series more than warranted a start on Sunday, even if on short rest, as the Yankees faced elimination.

But the Astros once again capitalized on any mistake, no matter how small.

“I thought I located the pitch pretty well,” Cortes said of the cutter that Peña hit for a home run. “Just happened to be [the wrong pitch] in that moment.”

The Yankees’ bullpen kept the Astros within reach through the next 18 outs, as Wandy Peralta, Jonathan Loáisiga and Clay Holmes each pitched two innings or more. But New York had no answer for Houston’s dominance on both sides of the ball.

For Cortes, though, there are plenty of positives to carry from 2022, despite the heartbreaking finish.

“It was great,” Cortes said of his season. “Obviously, I didn't get to where we wanted to go, but on a personal level I thought it was a pretty good year. Hopefully I can do that again next year. But as far as, you know, the team [goes], I wish we could have done a little more.”