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Yankees 3, Astros 1: Cortes cruises in four-inning return

A helluva performance from the pitching staff puts the Yankees up 2-1 in this series.

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

This was a tough one to sit through. The YES Network is one of the crown jewels of baseball broadcasting, and today’s game was about as bad a broadcast as I’ve ever seen. They struggled with both audio and visual delivery, and while the booth does deserve credit for ploughing on, it wasn’t a fun viewing experience even if the end result was a positive one. Five pitchers combined to allow just two hits as the Yankees topped the Astros 3-1.

Yknow, I was a little nervous about Nestor Cortes’ outing. He struggled with both command and control in the two months before hitting the IL, and he walked the first batter he faced. Then he struck the next three Astros out. THEN, he struck out Yordan Álvarez to open the second, and proceeded to allow just a single hit — Jose Altuve’s solo shot — with an 8:1 K:BB ratio over four innings.

The Yankees mostly held to the 60 pitch limit, with Cortes eventually tossing 64, and he made them count. His fastball command was excellent, and while we didn’t see much of his funky deliveries, he clearly was deceptive to the Astros lineup.

That cluster of fastballs sitting just above the zone was a huge key to Nestor’s outing. This is where he lives when he’s at his best — taking advantage of good spin despite not having the velo of other guys, and keeping the ball above the swing planes of most hitters. A whiff rate of 50 percent will play just fine in this rotation, and while it’ll probably take another start to get him back to full strength, I’m looking forward to the encore performance.

The rest of the staff put in work as well. Ian Hamilton and Tommy Kahnle took over for Nestor and struck out five over their combined three innings of work, before turning it over to what should be the best one-two combo in anyone’s bullpen, Michael King and Clay Holmes. King was the black sheep of the quartet of relievers, as he actually surrendered a hit, but that was the biggest hope spot the Astros would have on the day.

It’s a good thing the pitching was on top of things today, because the offense didn’t muster much against Justin Verlander. He’s one of the best pitchers of all time, and seems to have a particular vendetta against the Yankees, so a strong outing isn’t necessarily surprising. They did manage to get two men on in the first inning, before DJ LeMahieu chased ball four to end the threat.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Harrison Bader and Anthony Volpe came together to produce the first run of the game, with a single, double and sac fly respectively in the second inning. I said it on Twitter, but it feels like that trio has punched above their weight quite a bit in the past couple weeks. While the team as a whole hasn’t been super fun to watch, those three have at least provided some kind of a spark while the contracted veterans have struggled with injury and a loss of bat speed.

The Yankees threatened again after Giancarlo Stanton doubled with two out in the third, but uh....well, see for yourself:

Stanton cannot run anymore, and team tactics need to reflect that. If that means he’s station to station, so be it. He’s hitting his stride at the plate but can’t be put in situations where he’s thrown out by 15 feet at the plate, especially when the Yankees need every run they can spare right now.

The offense may not have been at its best today, but the two big hits it got were as big as you can get. Jake Bauers took Verlander deep to take the lead, and in true Starr fashion Gleyber Torres added some insurance with a solo shot of his own. It’s only three runs, but when the pitching staff was vibing as much as it did today, it’s enough.

After a marquee pitching matchup today, tomorrow’s series finale is about two guys trying to get their seasons back on track for the stretch run. Both José Urquidy and Carlos Rodón sport ERAs over 5 but are probably better as true talents. and the one who pitches more like that true talent will likely deliver the win in Sunday’s matinee.

Box Score