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Yankees 7, Rays 2: Nestor Cortes unleashes elusive Trop masterpiece

The two-time defending division champions had no answer for Nasty Nestor, who carried a three-hit shutout into the ninth.

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Yankees have gone through some rough games in recent years at Tropicana Field, which has turned into a sort of house of horrors. Nestor Cortes is not the type of player to be cowed by past tribulations, though; he even threw five innings of one-run ball during a win at the Trop just last year. While solid, that outing was child’s play compared to tonight.

Cortes carried a three-hit shutout into the ninth inning, baffling the Rays’ batters all night long. He had everything working, and although it took the Yankees’ offense a little while to get going with their makeshift lineup full of bench players and late-scratch substitutions, they blew it open late. Cortes couldn’t finish the shutout, but the Yankees will still happily take walking away with a 7-2 victory in their season series opener against the Rays.

The Rays actually did test Cortes right away. Yandy Díaz worked a leadoff walk and while Wander Franco popped up, Harold Ramirez singled to put a runner in scoring position with one out and Randy Arozarena due up. The former Rookie of the Year and playoff hero put a decent swing on a 2-1 pitch but lifted a fly that Miguel Andújar caught at the warning track. Díaz tagged and moved to third, but Cortes got Manuel Margot to line another ball to Andújar, who snared it on a dive to end the threat.

That Ramirez single proved to be an anomaly. Cortes and Ryan Yarbrough exchanged zeroes in both the run and hit columns into the sixth. Nasty Nestor retired the next 14 Rays in a row, and on the other side, Yarbrough had a no-no through five with the Yankees never really coming close to a hit.

In the top of the sixth, New York finally got something going against Yarbrough. They broke up his own streak of 14 consecutive batters retired when the lefty plunked newcomer Matt Carpenter to lead off the inning, and Marwin Gonzalez snapped the no-hitter as well with a clean single to center. That put two men on with no one out for Aaron Judge, who had uncharacteristically popped up and grounded out during his first couple trips to the plate. The third time offered something more familiar: an RBI single to put the Yankees in front.

Yarbrough got Anthony Rizzo to fly out, but Rays skipper Kevin Cash elected to go to the bullpen. Reliever Ryan Thompson did his job by inducing a popup and a groundball, but Taylor Walls didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. On the Andújar chopper to shortstop, Walls didn’t get good enough footing and his throw to first bounced away. Two runs scored and the Yankees had a 3-0 lead.

After Cortes turned the Rays away again in the sixth, the Yankees went back to work on another modest rally. Right-hander Ralph Garza Jr. walked Isiah Kiner-Falefa and ran into bad luck when Jose Trevino’s roller up the third-base line stayed fair, hitting the bag. A Carpenter groundout to the right side moved the runners up, and with Judge at the dish, IKF scored on a wild pitch. Although Judge walked, the Yankees had to settle for a four-run advantage as Rizzo flew out to finish the top of the seventh.

Three tack-on runs in the ninth thanks to some sloppy Rays defense made it a 7-0 ballgame, but by then, the story of the night was quite obviously not the offense. Cortes was absolutely dealing.

The Rays were held hitless after the first until Margot doubled just off the edge of Judge’s glove on an attempted running catch with two outs in the seventh. Cortes then stranded Vidal Bruján after a single in the eighth, and manager Aaron Boone gave him a chance to complete the shutout.

Unfortunately, Franco’s leadoff single drove Cortes from the game, and some shoddy relief by Wandy Peralta allowed Tampa to get on the board. By the end of the ninth, another run had scored, but the lead was too big for the Rays to overcome. The final score was 7-2, Yankees, and Cortes had another remarkable outing to add to his 2022 highlight reel. His ERA now stands at 1.70 in 53 innings of work. Send that man to the All-Star Game in L.A., pronto.

The Yankees and Rays will return to action tomorrow night in one of those Amazon Prime Video games. They’ll start up at 7:10pm ET with Jameson Taillon set to face lefty Jeffrey Springs.

Box Score