Nestor Cortes pitched well enough to earn his ninth victory on Saturday, allowing two runs in five innings in the Yankees’ 8-2 win over the Royals at Yankee Stadium.
But with Cortes, there’s always a little more to the story than just how he pitches.
In this case, it was how he fields.
“Under this body, there’s a guy that’s athletic,” Cortes said on April 23 after he made what manager Aaron Boone referred to as “the legend of Nestor” play when he dived headfirst into first base to retire Cleveland’s Steven Kwan.
Welcome to another “legend of Nestor” play from Saturday’s second inning.
“Another good play that he can add to his reel,” Boone said.
The Yankees were leading 2-0 and the Royals had runners on first and third when MJ Melendez sent a topper to the third-base side of the mound.
Quick as a cat, Cortes bounded off the mound and fielded the ball while heading toward the third-base line.
The runner at third, Hunter Dozier, had started home. But when he saw Cortes charging at him with ball in hand, Dozier tried to reverse course and go back to third.
Cortes, after a futile attempt to tag Dozier with his glove while the ball was in his bare hand, went into a half-slide along the third-base line, popped up and threw a lollipop to Josh Donaldson at third to nab Dozier for the second out.
“I saw him obviously going for home and I was going to flip to [catcher Jose Trevino],” Cortes said. “As soon as I saw him stop, I went after him because, obviously, I was so close to him. He kind of got me beat on that jab step he took and my momentum was going to tag him, but as soon as I saw that I was out of reach, to slow myself down, I had to slide.”
Boone had earlier called Cortes’ slide a “slip.”
“It might have been a little bit of both, honestly,” Cortes said. “I played it off like a slide, but I might have slipped.”
As for the throw — which wasn’t artful but got the job done — Cortes said: “Like I’ve said, I pride myself on being an athlete. Thank God it was an out.”
Cortes then caught Maikel Garcia looking at a 94-mph fastball on 3-and-2 to end the inning.
Aaron Judge gave Cortes a 4-0 lead with a two-run homer in the bottom of the second.
The Royals got a run back on Salvador Perez’s third-inning sacrifice fly and pulled within 4-2 on Garcia’s one-out RBI single in the fourth.
With the tying runners on, Cortes got Nicky Lopez to ground into a niftily-turned inning-ending 3-6-3 double play started by DJ LeMahieu.
After a 1-2-3 fifth, Cortes was pulled after 90 pitches with the Yankees ahead 5-2. The Yankees are trying to manage his innings with an eye on a deep October run. The 27-year-old lefthander already is at a career-high 106 1⁄3 innings. His previous high was the 93 innings he threw for the Yankees last season.
“I think I had more in me,” Cortes said. “But, obviously, I’m never going to question his decision-making.”
Boone said he thought about leaving Cortes in for two more batters to get through a lefty. But in the end, Boone went to the resurgent Aroldis Chapman, who fanned two in a perfect sixth. Clarke Schmidt earned his second save with three shutout innings in which he struck out five.
Cortes allowed five hits, walked two and struck out five. The mustachioed fan favorite and first-time All-Star is 9-3 with a 2.53 ERA.