Nestor Cortes’ fastball dropped 3 mph from the end of the second inning to the third in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series, and New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone walked to the mound with head athletic trainer Tim Lentych.
“He said he was fine,” Boone recalled. “I’m not going to just pull him out of the game because he isn’t perfect.”
Eight pitches later, Cortes allowed a tying three-run homer to Jeremy Peña and the Astros went on to a 6-5 victory Sunday night that completed a four-game AL Championship Series sweep.
“It’s kind of embarrassing that that happened, obviously, with the circumstances we were in,” Cortes said.
Cortes had reaggravated his strained left groin during workouts in the five days ahead of the Division Series opener against Cleveland on Oct. 11 but made a pair of starts against the Guardians and won Game 5.
He allowed a single and a walk in the first two innings against the Astros, then walked Martín Maldonado leading off the third and had a 2-1 count on Jose Altuve when Boone made the mound visit after his eighth pitch of the inning.
“He asked me how I felt and I told him, `I feel well enough to compete. I feel great,’” Cortes recalled. “He knows I’m a competitor. He knows that it’s going to be hard to take me off the mound. And I think I showed all year that I’ve gained respect from him to leave me out there and grind through it.”
Cortes threw 17 fastballs in the first two innings against Houston ranging from 89.4 to 92.4 mph. His seven in the second inning were from 87.7 mph to 89.1 mph.
His control was off. Cortes went to three-ball counts on seven of 11 batters and he threw just 28 of 55 pitches for strikes.
“It gradually got worse. It started locking up on me there in the third,” Cortes said.
Altuve’s walk marked the first time the 27-year-old All-Star left-hander walked consecutive batters this year. He fell behind 3-1 when Pena homered on a cutter, driving it into the left-field seats.
“I don’t think that homer was because I was hurt,” Cortes said. “It was just, he put a good swing to it. I thought I had located the pitch pretty well.”
Cortes did not pitch between Aug. 21 and Sept. 8 because of a strained left groin, then returned to make five regular-season starts and two in the Division Series, when he allowed three runs in 10 innings.
“It’s been lingering for a while,” he said.
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Cortes thought he could pitch through it and Boone believed him.
“We’ve been dealing with this on different levels for a couple months,” Boone said. “He said he was fine and then obviously wasn’t quite fine enough.”