Nestor Cortes puts on a show as Yankees rout Orioles; Aaron Judge still stuck on No. 61 – The Denver Post


This winter, Nestor Cortes called pitching coach Matt Blake, just to check and make sure he had a spot on the big league roster. A 38th-round draft pick who has had to earn every start and promotion in his career, Cortes didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

And Saturday, he made sure that the Yankees have him in their plans for big spots in the playoffs. While most packed Yankee Stadium hoping to see Aaron Judge hit a historic 62nd home run of the season, they were instead treated to yet another brilliant start by Cortes. He struck out a dozen and allowed just one hit as the Yankees rolled over the Orioles 8-0.

The Yankees (97-60) won their 10th game out of their last 12. It was their 16th shutout of the season, Cortes’ seventh scoreless start. The former journeyman who was cut by the Orioles walked off in the eighth for the final time in the regular season to a standing ovation.

“It was awesome. When  I came out of the seventh he said I got one more hitter obviously facing lefty but walking out was special. Obviously, the fans know I guess my trajectory to get here and what I’ve been through,” Cortes said. “So it’s really appreciated.”

Judge was hit by a pitch in his first at-bat, he walked twice and struck out swinging twice Saturday. It was his second game, stuck on 61 home runs and trying to become the first American League player to best Roger Maris’  61 year old single-season record.

Maris set the 61-home run mark exactly 61 years ago on Saturday. Though he has walked 16 times since he hit No. 60, Saturday in the seventh inning, it was the first real non-competitive at-bat Judge has had in this run.

The 45,428 in attendance did not appreciate it and gave Orioles pitcher Spencer Watkins a very loud and long Bronx cheer.

The Yankees didn’t need his power. He scored after taking one of the walks. Giancarlo Stanton and Kyle Higashioka homered for the Yankees. For Stanton, it was his 29th of the season, his first since Sept. 22 and just his fifth in the second half of the season. Gleyber Torres, Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rizzo and Stanton each drove in two runs.

And Cortes made it stand up.

Cortes, a first-time All-Star this year, struck out 12 hitters, tying his career-high set earlier this season against Baltimore,  and allowed just one hit. He walked two and saved the Yankees’ taxed bullpen going 7.1 innings. His 2.44 ERA is the third lowest by a Yankee pitcher in a single season since 1969 with a minimum of 25 starts, trailing only Ron Guidry’s 1.74 in 1978 and Steve Jack Kline’s 2.40 in 1970, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“He’s been huge for us all year,” Stanton said.  “Today it was another testament to that.”

He should also be a very big part of the playoffs.

The 27 year old lefty has arguably been the Bombers’ most effective pitcher this season. Yankees manager Aaron Boone wouldn’t answer directly when asked if Cortes could possibly get the nod to start Game 1 of the American League Division Series over $324 million ace Gerrit Cole.

But, he would certainly be the one that the 45,428 in the house on Saturday would most like to see lined up to pitch a win-or-go-home Game 5 of any series right now.

He’s 12-4 with a 2.44 ERA over 28 starts. It was Cortes’ fifth start where he gave up just one hit over at least five innings pitched this season, which is the most in Yankees history, besting the three by David Cone.

Cortes has not allowed a run and struck out 31 in three starts (18.1 innings pitched) against the Orioles, who cut him off the 40-man roster in 2018.

That has to be sweet, because Cotes may be an All-Star now because he remembers where he came from — and what it took to get here.

“With the stuff that I’ve been through before in the past, I just didn’t know how sure I was with the team,” Cortes said. “I called Matt Blake in the offseason and said, ‘Hey, am I on the inside looking out, on the outside looking in?’ He kind of laughed at me. But you know, I’m just grateful for the opportunity that they gave me.  Grateful that they trusted me and I was able to take it and run with it.”



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