Nestor Cortes has flirted with no-hitters this season, recorded double-digit strikeouts on multiple occasions and consistently given the Yankees a chance to win each time he's taken the mound.
The former 36th-round pick has blossomed in New York's rotation, using deception and changes in speed to baffle opposing hitters, transforming into appointment viewing on the mound.
Just when it looked like he had plateaued, already exceeding expectations, Cortes raised the bar once again.
In the Yankees' first meeting of the season with their bitter rivals in St. Petersburg, Cortes pitched into the ninth inning against the Rays, settling for eight frames of one-run ball in a 7-2 win.
For a moment, it looked like Cortes was poised to finish off a complete game shutout.
Taking the mound in the bottom of the ninth, Cortes allowed a leadoff single to phenom Wander Franco, just the fourth hit for Tampa Bay against the southpaw.
That prompted manager Aaron Boone to call to the bullpen, bringing in lefty Wandy Peralta to finish it out.
Peralta went on to permit two runs to score, one charged to Cortes.
With one earned run to his name, along with five strikeouts and one walk, Cortes lowered his season ERA to 1.70 on Thursday night. That's the fourth-best ERA in all of baseball. He's allowed just 10 runs to score in nine starts (53 innings pitched), striking out 61 batters with an 0.85 WHIP.
Cortes also continued his historic stretch on the mound, making his 18th start in a row with three-or-fewer earned runs. That's the second-longest stretch in Yankees franchise history (and longest by any Yankees pitcher since 1911).
On offense, the Yankees were held hitless until the sixth against left-hander Ryan Yarbrough. After Marwin Gonzalez broke up the no-hit bid, Aaron Judge drove home Matt Carpenter—who was signed by New York earlier in the day on Thursday—to put New York on the board.
They didn't look back from there, eventually adding three insurance runs in the top of the ninth.
With the win, New York extended their early lead over the Rays in the American League East to 5.5 games. They'll face off with Tampa Bay three more times this weekend, playing the Rays for two more series within the month of June as well.
Standings aside, the story on Thursday—and truly every five days when he takes the ball—was Cortes.
For a pitcher that entered last season with a 6.72 ERA in his career, a player struggling to secure a job at the big-league level, it's truly remarkable what Cortes has been able to accomplish in 2022. Judging by the way he has improved this season, putting himself in early consideration for a spot in the All-Star Game, who knows what he'll be able to accomplish next.
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