It’s hard not to be giddy over the state of New York baseball these days. The Yankees and Mets are both playing some of their best ball, and there is no shortage of great stories on either team.
That was on display on Thursday in the Bronx with Nestor Cortes on the mound and Matt Carpenter in the lineup as the Yankees designated hitter in the first game of a doubleheader against the Los Angeles Angels. The Yankees won the second game 2-1 after Jameson Taillon threw eight innings of perfect baseball and New York scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth.
The rise of Cortes to a Yankees ace has been nothing short of miraculous for the once journeyman pitcher. In a head-to-head battle with one of baseball’s best pitchers, Shohei Ohtani, Cortes was the one who had the upper hand in seven innings of scoreless baseball.
His everyman tale seems to fit the vibes that the Bombers have had this season, with Carpenter only adding to that since he put on his pinstripes for the first time last Thursday in Tampa Bay. Carpenter may still be looking for his first non-home run hit as a Yankee, his power hitting has been a boost for New York and quickly endeared him to the fans in the Bronx.
His leadoff home run on Thursday afternoon was the third hit of his Yankees career and joined Kyle Higashioka and Alfonso Soriano as the only Yankees to register homers as their first three hits with the team.
“I’d like to mix in a single, that’d be nice,” Carpenter joked. “I haven’t thought much about (the three home runs). Just getting in the box and trying to compete and have good at-bats. Get some good swings off to start and just want to keep riding it out.”
Cortes and Carpenter’s stories share some similarities that make their current success feel special. The two have had their ups and downs, with Carpenter being let go by the St. Louis Cardinals after two down seasons before ending up in the Texas Rangers organization on a minor league deal.
Cortes has bounced around between the minors and majors and between teams before finally taking off last season. He has continued that this year with strong outings in nine starts for a 1.70 ERA.
Where the two diverge a little when it comes to where they are in their career. Cortes, 27, was still on the younger side of his career, while Carpenter, 36, was trying to refind the form he had during his 11 successful years in St. Louis.
However, the two’s humbleness over their quick success this season remains an endearing charm in their feel-good stories.
“I can’t sit here and tell you I don’t look at numbers. I obviously look at the numbers,” Cortes said when asked to reflect on the first part of the season so far. “It’s been pretty special. I feel like I go out there and control what I can control, which is whether I go three innings or I go seven innings, and I try to compete. With that, I’ve had a lot of success and hopefully, I can continue to do so.”
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“I really didn’t have much conversation about what that (role with the Yankees) looked like and I really didn’t have much expectation either,” Carpenter said. “I said the first day, and I meant it, if they wanted me to help load the equipment on the plan that’s what I’d come do. There wasn’t many places that would pique my interest like the New York Yankees did.
“Just getting to be a part of it, putting on the pinstripes, being in that clubhouse with this great group of guys. Whatever that role is, whatever it continues to be if it does continue, however it plays out I’m just grateful to be here.”