Nestor Cortes just keeps getting it done. Even though he only returned to the Yankees as a non-roster invitee in spring training and was stuck in Scranton until late May, he’s emerged as a surprisingly steady force. Forced into the rotation due to various injury and COVID woes, Cortes has a 2.73 ERA across six starts since the beginning of July and came up with another pivotal outing on Sunday, leading the Yankees to another win over the White Sox, 5-3.
Both teams squandered opportunities to get off to a fast start at the plate. White Sox starter Lucas Giolito labored through a 33-pitch first inning that included a 12-pitch walk by Brett Gardner, and another free pass to Aaron Judge put two men on with one out. Giolito recovered though, as he got Joey Gallo on a well-executed called strike three before fanning Giancarlo Stanton to end the inning.
During the home half of the first, Cortes got the first two batters out, but José Abreu cracked a single to center that Gardner nearly caught (he could only trap it). Eloy Jiménez then grounded a hit through the right side, and when Abreu drew a throw from Judge to third, it went wild, allowing Jiménez to move to second. Dangerous rookie Andrew Vaughn was next, and Cortes battled him for eight pitches until an 81-mph changeup led to a relatively easy comebacker.
It was a long first inning for the game to still be scoreless. Rougned Odor had played a key role in keeping the White Sox off the board with a brilliant play at third for the second out, and in his first at-bat of the game, he ensured that the Yankees would score first instead:
The blast sailed 402 feet and over the right-center-field fence to put the Yankees in front. Luke Voit had singled prior to Odor’s homer, so that made it a two-run shot and better yet, the offense didn’t stop there.
A couple strikeouts from the bottom of the lineup passed the baton back to DJ LeMahieu, who singled into left field. Gardner was up next and he didn’t need to grind Giolito down over 12 pitches in this go-around. Instead, he dropped a base hit just past second baseman César Hernández in shallow right field, and Gardner stretched for two. Hernández’s throw to second went wild, allowing LeMahieu to score to make it 3-0, Yankees.
The Yankees tediously left a combined nine runners in scoring position through the next six innings with Joey Gallo and Kyle Higashioka leading the futility at 0-for-4 with four strikeouts apiece. Thankfully for the offense, the story of the afternoon turned out to be the man who Higgy was catching, Cortes. The 26-year-old righty found a way to flummox the White Sox. It wasn’t as though he was completely dominant — he allowed a hit in each inning of work and some counts certainly went deeper than others.
Time and time again though, Cortes worked out of all White Sox opportunities with runners on base. The Abreu/Jiménez duo reached again with two outs in the third, and Cortes induced a fielder’s choice out of Vaughn. Yoán Moncada began the fourth with an infield single and never advanced, as Cortes retired the next three batters in a row with a pair of punchouts. Tim Anderson mirrored Moncada with an infield hit of his own to lead off the fifth, but Hernández bounced into a double play and Cortes defiantly fanned Abreu to end it:
NESTOR KNOWS IT.— Pinstripe Alley (@pinstripealley) August 15, 2021
Called strike three on Abreu, inning over. pic.twitter.com/dt3XPv5x6t
Good luck watching that Cortes strut and not smile. The man worked wonders against one of the best offenses in the league and never reached 93 mph.
Alas, Cortes wasn’t entirely flawless on the afternoon. After the two earlier missed opportunities, Vaughn got his vengeance in the bottom of the sixth, launching a 409-foot solo shot to make it a 3-1 ballgame. To his credit, Cortes shrugged it off, getting the last two batters of the sixth and wrapping his day up with a career-best seven strikeouts in six innings of one-run ball, lowering his season ERA to 2.55 in 49.1 innings.
Stephen Ridings entered in relief of Cortes in the seventh and immediately ran into trouble by walking pinch-hitter Jake Lamb on four pitches. His first pitch to next man up, pinch-hitter Zack Collins, also sailed outside, and Odor came in for a typical mound visit. Whatever he said to Ridings worked wonders, as the big righty recovered to fan Collins, and then got Anderson to ground into a double play. (It seemed like Voit’s foot came off the bag, but the White Sox did not challenge it.)
Manager Aaron Boone tried to stretch Ridings a little longer, but he immediately walked Hernández to begin the eighth, forcing a switch to Jonathan Loaisiga with the heart of the White Sox order due up next. Just as he’s done practically all year long though, Loaisiga came through. He narrowly missed coaxing a double play out of Abreu, struck out Jiménez on a perfect pitch, and got Vaughn to pop out to LeMahieu at second.
At long last in the ninth, the Yankees’ offense finally delivered again in a prime scoring opportunity. Facing Matt Foster, Stanton led off with a double to right that Vaughn didn’t play well, and Voit punished a pitch right in his wheelhouse:
The two-run dinger ran the score up to 5-1, allowing for some much-needed breathing room that came in handy about 15 minutes later.
With the lead now at four runs, Boone lifted Loaisiga in favor of Lucas Luetge, who quite simply didn’t have it. Moncada led off with a walk, Luis Robert followed with a base hit to left, and after Lamb popped up on a nice play made by defensive replacement Andrew Velazquez in the sun, Collins smoked an RBI double to the right-field wall to make it 5-2.
Desperate for someone to get outs, Boone called on Wandy Peralta. The southpaw got Anderson to hit a grounder to the right side, but Voit had to range far enough over that it made for a difficult play at first. Anderson was safe and the winning run stepped up to the plate in the form of Hernández with Abreu menacingly looming on deck.
Bless his heart, Hernández swung at the first pitch and hit a perfect double-play grounder:
It is a DOUBLE PLAY! BALLGAME OVER! YANKEES WIN! THEEEEEEEEEEE YANKEES WIN! pic.twitter.com/VwQXLFSCXR— John Sterling Calls (@JSterlingCalls) August 15, 2021
The review confirmed the call and Yankees fans around the world breathed a sigh of relief. The bullpen had survived and Peralta got the save, securing the well-deserved win for Cortes.
The Yankees have now captured 10 of their last 11 series and are tied with the Rays with the best record of baseball at 23-11 since that stretch began on July 5th. The Red Sox swept the Orioles and the A’s have essentially the same record as Boston, so the Yankees remain 2.5 games back of the AL Wild Card, though the Rays’ surprising series loss in Minnesota has the Yankees a tad closer in the AL East at 5.5 games behind, though still in third.
When the season schedule was originally designed, August 16th was supposed to be an off-day for the Yankees. However, their July 1st rainout against the Angels forced them to lose that reprieve. The two teams will make up that game tomorrow night in the Bronx with Gerrit Cole returning from the COVID-IL to face José Suarez at 7:05pm ET.