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Yankees' Nestor Cortes gives his best El Duque impression

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The rain delay continued and with it the false hope that Game 5 on Monday night would start at 8:30 or 9:00 pm. Nestor Cortes is free. Jameson would save Taillon from the pen. That was the plan.

But as a rain became evident, Aaron Boone gathered his coaches to change strategy on what would be a decisive incline Tuesday afternoon. Cortes was summoned and informed by his manager that he could now take a short rest. “Give me five minutes,” Boone said to his left. Cortes went to the training room. His manager met him there and “he told me what I needed to hear”.

Every pitcher will say that they want these words – they got the ball in a big moment. Many will really believe it. Fewer have a talent/temperament marriage to thrive. When asked what made sure Cortes could handle a life or death game on a short rest, Boone noted: All-Star and big game option.

Boone said he would be thrilled with 10 points from Cortes. Jonathan Loaisiga warmed up in the third round. Lou Trivino is fourth and fifth. But Cortes was affordable and excellent. He went five hits in a 5-1 victory over Cleveland that advanced the Yankees to the ALCS.

The Yankees never figured out how to catch a pop-up in the Bermuda Triangle in this Division Series, with the left fielder, short back, and third baseman near the left field line. Another missed point contributed to a one-run and a 21-step shot against Cortes, or he could have gone even further. Still, one looked at loaded bases against three and four hitters to limit it to just the run.

“This time of year is critical – of course you have to have that competitive drive, but you also have to have fun playing the game, and it combines those two things really well,” said Boone.

Nestor Cortes celebrates after reaching the final in the third inning of the Yankees' 5-1 ALDS series win over the Guardians.
Nestor Cortes celebrates after reaching the final in the third inning of the Yankees’ 5-1 ALDS series win over the Guardians.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

Orlando Hernandez, the Yankees’ best big pitcher of the last 30 years, also showcased these traits. There was Moxie and showmanship. In October, he did not give up. Talent and fortitude rose to him with a waterfall of heart, various arm angles, and high leg kicks. If you hand the ball to him, you can routinely expect October brilliance and an almost guarantee that even on his worst day, a postseason start won’t let him get away with it.

And can you say anything more flattering about Cortes than he could be the left-handed heir to Hernandez? A duke’s son is a marquis. And it’s possible the Yankees have El Marqués – an El Duque-like entity that you want to briefly get the ball in in a do-or-die game.

“He’s a creator,” said GM Brian Cashman, who signed Hernandez to the Yankees in 1998. He’s an artist and Nestor is clearly an artist. You’ve even seen the crowd react very excitingly to one of its winds, as in El Duque. He likes to entertain. Both were entertainers and both were tough as nails. So they are very similar in all these categories.”

And that’s no frivolous comparison to the Cuban-born, Miami-raised Cortes.

“He is a legend in baseball history and Yankee history, but also in Cuban history,” Cortes said after the official post-game press conference when I mentioned how much he reminded me of Hernandez. Born in 1994, Cortes’ memories of El Duque are of seeing him on the field with the 2005 champion White Sox. But he knows what it means to compare the three-time champion Yankee to Hernandez, who was 9-3 with a 2.65 ERA in 17 Yankees playoff games.

“You knew the moment would never be too big for Duque, and it looks like Cortes has the same quality,” Cashman said. “He didn’t even need to score Game 5. It was Jameson. And he picked himself up and boom, here he goes. So I don’t think the moments will be too big for him like Duque.”

Orlando
Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez was known for his prowess in the big game with the Yankees.
Anthony J Causi

The Yankees actually won over their heraldic histories with a bit of a hat tip. In those days, if the Yankees faced a right-hand start in rotation at this time of year, they would usually have an early kill. In the Rocky Coppinger episode, Gil Heredia and Chad Ogea step into Aaron Civale and his 4.92 Period. It took one and three runs produced by Giancarlo Stanton through a homer.

In those days, a Yankees anthem like El Duque would get him up and running. El Marqués did so this time.

During the Wild-Card Era (since 1995), there were 132 end-of-season starts with less than four days of rest. The ERA group was 4.59 and the teams were 54-78. Guardians manager Terry Francona didn’t take risks with his ace Shane Bieber. But after three days of rest after facing Bieber in Game 2 (two runs, five halves), Cortes was told “give us what you got”.

What he gave was Hernandez-esque. It was El Marqués who pushed the Yankees into another ALCS date against the Astros.

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