Before the seventh inning Wednesday night, Nestor Cortes was cruising.
He’d thrown more than 11 pitches in an inning just twice, striking out five and appearing to build on his previous start, at Toronto.
But then the seventh inning arrived.
Anthony Santander walked, Austin Hays singled and Adam Frazier hit a three-run homer, sinking Cortes’ outing — and eventually the Yankees — in a 9-6 loss to the Orioles.
“I felt a lot better today than I have in the past,” said Cortes, who added he thinks his “inflated” 5.30 ERA will be “back to normal” by season’s end.
“I felt like the ball was coming out great in the seventh still. Still had more power. Body felt great. … Everything unraveled real quick.”
Manager Aaron Boone said after the game he had planned to end Cortes’ night after Frazier’s at-bat regardless of how the inning unfolded.
The leadoff walk ”hurt him,” Boone said, but the manager didn’t think that Cortes faltered once the start stretched into the sixth and seventh innings.
“I know it goes bad there a little bit at the end, but you take a step back and look at how he threw the ball, especially coming off his last one, some encouraging things there,” Boone said.
Cortes started his outing by retiring the first seven Orioles he faced, only allowing one ball to leave the infield. The first blemish came in the fourth inning, when Ryan Mountcastle homered on a 3-2 pitch into the Orioles’ bullpen to cut the Yankees’ lead to 2-1.
He only allowed one more hit until the seventh. It didn’t prompt early bullpen activity. His pitch count was 77. Cortes threw just 12 more pitchs before his night ended. On his 89th and final pitch, Frazier, who had reached base safely in 16 consecutive games, launched a shot that bounced off the foul pole in right field. That prompted Cortes to stand on the mound, both hands on his knees, staring toward the spot where the ball had landed.
Cortes said he thought the location and selection of the pitch were correct, given that Frazier “was getting beat all day with the heater.”
“If that ball’s two inches away, he probably pops it up,” Cortes said. “Different outcome. Credit to him. [Frazier] put a good swing, and just three runs there killed us.”
Before the game, manager Aaron Boone said that he wasn’t worried about Cortes’ recent stretch, in which he had allowed three or more runs in three of his last five starts, dating to April 25. Boone wasn’t concerned with his fastball velocity, but rather the location, adding that Cortes was “mixing it all over” and was “sharper.”
“I never really get enamored with his [velocity] number,” Boone said. “The hitters usually give me an idea of what his fastball is looking like and the profile of that fastball.”
And then the seventh inning arrived. Six of Cortes’ fastballs were either called balls or were hits. The Orioles revealed everything that needed to be known.