By the time the Orioles had swung and missed a pitch from Nestor Cortes for the 19th time on Saturday afternoon, the last representing his 12th strikeout of the day, the sold-out Yankee Stadium crowd gave the outstanding southpaw a standing ovation. .
The next time he takes the mound will likely be for Game 2 of the ALDS, although Cortes even made the case for Game 1.
Cortes was superb again, tying a career-high 12 strikeouts in 7 ¹/₃ shutout, one hit to lead the Yankees to an 8-0 victory over the Orioles in the Bronx.
“Starting today, I just wanted to put on a good performance to end the regular season on a high note,” Cortes said. “There’s still work to be done, but glad it ended this way.”
In his 28th and final regular season start, Cortes lowered his ERA to 2.44, which is the third-lowest by a Yankees pitcher since 1969 (with a minimum of 25 starts), behind Ron Guidry (1 .74 in 1978) and Steve Kline (2.40 in 1972).
Cortes has been the Yankees’ most consistent starter this season, although manager Aaron Boone declined to comment on whether he could be an option to start the ALDS opener against Gerrit Cole.
“He’s been huge,” Boone said. “Naturally, the fan base loves him. He loves to wear the stripes and play here and pitch here and perform here. It was a standing ovation he received to end what has been a great regular season for him. One of those guys who is really instrumental in us being in this situation right now.
Cortes set the tone for his day by knocking out the team in the first inning and allowed his only hit on a two-out single in the fifth. He unbalanced the Orioles with solid throwing selection, mixing up his four-seam fastball, slider, cutter, lead and change.
Although Cortes was largely dominant without needing his funky stuff, he mixed one in round six on Saturday. On a 0-2 count against Ryan Mountcastle, he faltered in his delivery, swinging his right leg long enough to get it out of the crowd before throwing his toughest pitch of the day, a 94mph fastball for a strikeout.
“He’s one of the best in the game for a reason,” said Orioles rookie third baseman Gunnar Henderson, who struck out in all three at-bats against Cortes.
Then, after seven sharp innings, Boone gave Cortes the leadoff batter in the eighth — which he struck out — in part so he could get a standing ovation. The crowd of 45,428 showered love on the former 36th-round pick who bounced around multiple organizations and minors before becoming a star this season.
“Coming out was special,” Cortes said. “Obviously the fans know my trajectory to get here and what I’ve been through. So that’s really appreciated.”
— Additional reporting by Mark Cannizzaro
New York Post