Bronx, NY– As the Yankees were on the brink of elimination, Nestor Cortes was handed the ball for Game 4 of the ALCS with the hopes of extending New York’s season. The 27-year-old, who became a fan favorite in the Bronx this year, cultivating a starting rotation alongside Gerrit Cole, took the mound on Sunday evening with a daunting Houston Astros task ahead.
“The goal’s still to go out there and throw as many quality innings as I can, and I think that’s the way that I’ve done it the whole year and that’s why I’ve had the success I’ve had,” Cortes said leading up to Game 4 as the Yankees saw themselves down 3-0 in the series.
The left-hander introduced Houston batters with a lethal blend of fastballs and sliders to begin the first two innings, allowing one hit, and two walks the first time through the Astros lineup.
But the following inning, he became altered, missing in locations, allowing baserunners, and going through the motions on several mound visits. A 3-1 slider off the bat of Jeremy Peña sent 408 feet to the left field seats made it apparent across Yankee Stadium, Cortes was lingering.
Peña, the Astros rookie sensation from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, tied the ballgame 3-3 and a crowd of 46,545 transitioned into silent disbelief.
With no outs in the third, Yankees manager Aaron Boone opted to remove Cortes from the game. His final line on the night was three earned runs allowed across two hits (1 HR) and three walks in two innings pitched plus three batters.
“I felt like the first two innings were really good,” Cortes said. “I think if I would’ve continued to do that, I would’ve been fine; the team would’ve been fine. Sucks that I gave up the three-run homer in the third inning. It’s kind of embarrassing that happened, obviously with the circumstances we were in, and obviously, we knew we had to win this game.”
The Yankees later officially announced, “Nestor Cortes left tonight’s game with a left groin injury.” An injury Cortes dealt with previously this regular season as he was sidelined on the IL this past August (left groin strain).
Boone revealed during the postgame, Cortes suffered a similar injury, but to a lesser degree prior to his ALDS Game 2 outing against the Cleveland Guardians.
“He actually did it I think in his bullpen in his first start against Cleveland,” said Boone. “It wasn’t as significant as when he went on the IL earlier in the year, and he actually pitched through it well with that game, and then obviously came back on three days rest and was good, was good today, and then I think he had — I don’t think he was in pain or anything like that.”
Nonetheless, rain in the New York City area on Sunday night forced MLB to delay Game 4 by an hour and 20 minutes, creating an additional challenge for starting pitchers to prepare accordingly. On the same note, the delay and field conditions may have played a factor into Cortes’ loss of location in the strike zone and perhaps, the injury pile-on.
It must be stated, Cortes, of Surgidero de Batabanó, Cuba, carries that authentic stature of not becoming compromised under pressure. He explained how he enjoys the pressure New York has to offer because of the dedication and support presented out by the fans.
“I think it’s good to have that pressure,” Cortes said. “Because you know, you’re liked around the city and hopefully in the community of Hispanics and the Cubans like from where I’m from. So just to be in that position, it feels great. And I’m happy everybody’s rooting along with me.”
But back to the tie ball game in the Bronx. Left-hander Wandy Peralta (San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic) became the next man up on the mound, surrendering one earned run over two innings on three hits, and a walk.
The 2021 American League LatinoMVP Reliever of the Year, and Nicaraguan native, Jonathan Loáisiga, followed Peralta, but fell short in Game 4 due to defensive mishaps behind him.
What was turning out to be a routine double play between second baseman Gleyber Torres and shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the seventh, resulted in an extra scoring opportunity for Houston. Again, giving away extra outs in the postseason is no winning recipe.
“I feel terrible in the moment because I know we can make the double play and finish the inning in that moment,” Torres said about the error. “I made that mistake. I feel like I need to learn to be a little more in control in that situation.”
The Astros tacked on two in the inning, delivered by Yordan Álvarez and Alex Bregman, both responsible for RBI singles. As Loáisiga’s night came to an end during the seventh, Clay Holmes entered from the bullpen gates, inheriting two base runners. After all, Loáisiga allowed two runs (one earned, one unearned) across 2.1 innings on two hits.
“The bullpen came in and was terrific and gave us a chance there,” Boone said. “But, yeah, feel bad for Nestor.”
Finishing off the Yankees top trio out of the bullpen, Holmes, completed 2.2 scoreless innings, fanning two and allowing two hits. The 29-year-old right-hander kept the score in reach for a New York comeback victory, but yet again, the offense failed to execute down the crucial stretch.
Leaving six on base as well as 4-11 with runners in scoring position, New York dropped Game 4 by a final score of 6-5. And now it has been 13 consecutive seasons since the Yankees last World Series appearance.
Meanwhile, the Astros, who converted on offense in all four ALCS games, and remain a perfect 7-0 this postseason, advance to their fourth World Series appearance in the last six years.
“We won the division series, we won the division, and we fell short,” said Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo. “We gave runs away, they capitalized. We just didn’t play well enough. That’s what October baseball is all about; you have to capitalize on your opportunities and we just didn’t do that.”
“It’s an awful day, just an awful ending,” Boone said. “It stings. It hurts. No one I would rather do it with than those guys in there and how together they are.”
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Robert Rizzo writes for Latino Sports
Follow on Twitter: @RobertRiz994
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