Nestor Cortes delivers again as red-hot Yankees fend off Rays

Two of the American League’s best pitchers squared off in The Bronx on Wednesday night, and as in most things lately, the Yankees came out on top.

A few tense moments late in the action couldn’t get in the way of the Yankees vaulting to 30 games over .500.

Nestor Cortes bounced back from a rare poor start and the Yankees took advantage of another Rays error to jump on Shane McClanahan on the way to a 4-3 win.

“They’ve found ways to win,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Obviously we have some guys that are having great starts to their season individually, but everyone in that room has contributed in so many different ways: defensively, running the bases, out of the pen, starting rotation. Just a lot of different ways we’ve been able to win games. I think that gives everyone a lot of confidence going into each day knowing we don’t have to do it just one way.”

For the Yankees (46-16) to capture their sixth straight win, it took contributions from a few of those players having standout seasons: Cortes (6-2) gave up one run over 5 ¹/₃ innings to drop his ERA to 1.94 , Aaron Judge drilled his 25th home run and Clay Holmes locked down his 11th save while extending his scoreless streak to 30 innings.

A smiling Nestor Cortes picked up his sixth victory of the season in the Yankees’ 4-3 win over the Rays.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

It also took Kyle Higashioka crushing a three-run shot off McClanahan in the fifth inning. The blast came after center fielder Brett Phillips made a costly fielding error and the Rays (35-27) intentionally walked Isiah Kiner-Falefa with two outs to get to the Yankees’ catcher.

“It feels like Judge and [Giancarlo Stanton] are always just hitting them over the fence, but there’s some days where other people are going to have to step up and we have the kind of team that guys can do that,” said Higashioka, who clubbed his third homer in two games after going without one in his first 34. “We know that needs to happen at some point and we’re all glad to step up.”

Higashioka then got the best view in the house for Holmes’ sinker, which put away the Rays after the leadoff man reached in the ninth on a bobble by Anthony Rizzo at first base.

Aaron Judge belts a solo homer, his 25th of the season, in the first inning of the Yankees' win.
Aaron Judge belts a solo homer, his 25th of the season, in the first inning of the Yankees’ win.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

“It’s kind of a unicorn pitch,” Higashioka said. “I have a hard enough time catching it, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to try to hit it.”

Cuts zoomed through five innings while allowing just three base runners and entered the sixth having retired eight straight before running out of steam. Still, it was a strong rebound from last Wednesday at Minnesota, when the Twins battered him for four runs on seven hits in 4¹/₃ innings.

Kyle Higashioka belts a three-run homer in the fifth inning of the Yankees' win.
Kyle Higashioka belts a three-run homer in the fifth inning of the Yankees’ win.
Jason Szenes

After Wandy Peralta delivered 1 ²/₃ scoreless innings of relief, the Yankees’ bullpen nearly spoiled Cortes’ strong night in the eighth inning, which included a 16-minute delay as Boone tried to make a pitching change. The umpires had a lengthy meeting to make sure that he was allowed, since pitching coach Matt Blake had just visited the mound without Miguel Castro throwing a pitch in between. But because the Rays were pinch-hitting Ji-Man Choi, the umpires ultimately allowed Boone to call on left-hander Lucas Luetge with two on and two out.

Luetge entered and gave up back-to-back RBI singles, but he buckled down to get Phillips to fly out with the lead still intact.

A dominant outing from Holmes later, the Yankees climbed to 30 games above .500.

“That’s incredible,” Cortes said. “But we don’t expect anything less. With this group of guys that we have here, it’s pretty special and we can continue to do big things.”

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