Before Game 5 of the Yankees’ American League division series against Cleveland began on Tuesday, Manager Aaron Boone said he imagined his bullpen playing a “big role” within the do-or-die contest against the Guardians.
Nestor Cortes, nevertheless, had a rather different vision.
Pitching on just three days’ rest — a situation made possible after rain forced Game 5 to be postponed by a day — the left-handed Cortes gave the Yankees all the things they may have asked for after which some. He threw five innings of one-run ball within the Bronx while walking one, striking out two and allowing three hits over 61 pitches in a 5-1 win.
“It feels incredible to have the option to do what I did today,” said Cortes, a 2013 Thirty sixth-round pick who’s on his third stint with the Yankees organization. “I didn’t know the way long I used to be going to go on the market. I used to be just trying to offer my team innings, whether it was two innings, three, 4, five innings. And it feels great to come back on top and lead the team to the C.S.”
A case might have been made for extending Cortes’s efficient outing, but his performance did the job, keeping Boone from excessively counting on his bullpen.
With the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros set to start out Wednesday — and just one day without work scheduled during that series — Cortes’s impact on the Yankees’ relief corps moving forward could prove just as beneficial as his individual performance in Game 5.
“Man, what an effort,” said Boone, who used the right-hander Jonathan Loáisiga for 2 innings before turning to Clay Holmes and Wandy Peralta for the last six outs. “Truthfully, moving into, I might have been really enthusiastic about 10 batters.”
The best-hander Holmes, who pitched a scoreless eighth, also recognized the help Cortes, 27, provided the Yankees’ bullpen because the unit prepared for Houston.
“Oh, it’s unbelievable,” Holmes said. “Not only for this winner-take-all game, but simply to put us in position tomorrow to be in a great spot. It’s very gutsy.”
Added catcher Jose Trevino, who caught the division series finale: “That was huge. Nestor went in and did his job. I believed he did it well. I believed he did a very good job today.”
As Holmes noted, the Yankees’ season was indeed on the road Tuesday. Yet Cortes said, “I’ve got nothing to lose,” after the sport, a nod to the struggles he endured before transforming into one in all the Yankees’ best — and craftiest — pitchers throughout the second half of last season.
Before contributing a 2.61 E.R.A. over the past two seasons, Cortes worked as a mop-up man who couldn’t follow the Yankees, and even the Baltimore Orioles or the Seattle Mariners.
He recorded a 15.26 E.R.A. over seven and two-thirds innings with Seattle in 2020, and that was it for his major league campaign that 12 months. This season, he became a first-time All-Star — and saved the day within the Yankees’ most vital game thus far.
“I used to be lucky enough for the organization and the Yankees to imagine in me to bring me back in 2021,” Cortes said. “And from there on, all the things just jump-started to what I’ve been doing today. I’m grateful for the chance they gave me. I’m grateful for everyone within the front office and coaches, I mean, down the road, for the chance to imagine in me. I’m glad I used to be in a position to show it today.”
For Boone, there was never any doubt.
“Just the legend of Nestor,” Boone said, repeating a phrase he has used before, when asked what gave him confidence in a pitcher who had been designated for project twice in his profession.
Those days of uncertainty are far behind Cortes now. Somewhat, he’s relishing his status as a big-game pitcher — and already has his sights set on the subsequent one.
“I’ve been within the gutter before,” Cortes admitted. “I’ve been down. So for me, that is only a cherry on top. Hopefully there’s more moments like this.”