They always knew they would end up there. Tuesday night, Nestor Cortes, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge punched that ticket back to Houston. Cortes pitched brilliantly on short rest and Stanton and Judge homered to power the Bombers to a 5-1 win over the Guardians to clinch the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium. They needed all five games — played over eight days because of rain — to earn their berth into their third American League Championship Series in the last six year.
Like the previous two, the Yankees will face the Astros.
“My ultimate goal is to go out there and win a World Series and they’re the team that has always been in the way,” Judge said of the Astros, who bet the Yankees in the 2017 and 2019 ALCS. “They have a great ballclub over there. So you kind of gotta go through them if you want to get to your ultimate goal of winning a World Series.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s gonna be a great matchup.”
The Yankees had little time to celebrate.
After Monday night’s weather debacle, which pushed the deciding game back to Tuesday evening, the Bombers had to fly straight to Houston Tuesday night and face their postseason nemesis Astros in Game 1 of the ALCS less than 24 hours later. Jameson Taillon will start Game 1 for the Yankees at MinuteMaid Park, where the Astros had a casual workout Tuesday and slept in their own beds. Before the champagne had even been sprayed, the Yankees bags were being loaded into the truck to head to the airport. The Yankees will have to make roster decisions on the plane and go over the work from the two advance scouts in the air.
“That definitely falls under the good problems to have,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
It took all they had to just get to this point.
The Yankees faced elimination Sunday in Game 4 and tabbed Cortes in Game 5 on just three days’ rest to try to get them through another win-or-go-home game. The scrappy lefthander who pitched not to get cut throughout his minor league career, was the right choice.
“I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ve been in the gutter before. I’ve been down. So for me, this is just a cherry on top and hopefully there’s more moments like this,” Cortes said. “I feel like today, I came in with the responsibility in my hands to take care of the narrative, to take care of what my career has been. And I was just happy to perform and give my team solid innings for them to be in the game.”
Cortes allowed one run on three hits. He walked one and struck out two. Most importantly he was efficient enough to get the game into the sixth before Jonathan Loaisiga, Clay Holmes and Wandy Peralta, who pitched all five games of the series, slammed the door on the Guardians.
Stanton gave Cortes a lot of room to work with, hitting a three-run homer in the first inning.
“Incredible. I knew from that moment on, all I had to do was throw strikes and be able to get us as deep as possible,” Cortes said of the Stanton shot. “I didn’t know how far I was going to go. I didn’t know what my pitch count was. It was basically how I looked out there and for him to give us that three-run lead in the first from the get-go was huge for me and calmed me down to go out there and do what I do.”
It was Stanton’s second home run of the series and his 11th career postseason home run, tied with Carlos Beltran for the most in baseball history through his first 23 postseason games. It was his third home run in a “winner-take-all” game, tied for second in franchise history only behind Judge, who hit a solo shot in the second inning. It was the 14th time in 2022 they homered in the same game and they are 13-1 in those games. It was the fourth time Judge and Stanton had homered in the same postseason game, the Yankees are 4-0 in those.
And that may be what the Yankees need to keep this season going, because they always knew the Astros were going to be a challenge.
“We’ve got to go through them. We’ve got to beat them to get where we want to be. They’re in the way so we’ve got to go,” Stanton said. “Revenge is whatever for me, it’s just what’s right now. They’re in the way of where we need to go so we’ve got to take care of them.”