As Nestor Cortes got deeper and deeper into his bid for a no-hitter Monday afternoon, there was only one problem: The Yankees were struck on their own zero in the run column.
Whatever history the left-hander might have had within his grasp threatened to be spoiled by his offense’s inability to scratch across just a single run.
But even after Cortes lost his no-hit bid with one out in the eighth inning, the Yankees made sure it wasn’t all for naught, as Anthony Rizzo’s RBI double in the bottom of the inning was enough to secure a 1-0 win over the Rangers at Yankee Stadium.
“I was hanging on over there for dear life,” manager Aaron Boone said. “It definitely added a layer of drama to it, for sure. Obviously makes every pitch even that much more meaningful and intense, which makes it all the more impressive. There’s no margin for error.”
Rizzo snapped a 2-for-30 skid by roping a fly ball into the wide-open gap in left-center field for a double, scoring Aaron Judge from first base and sending the Yankees (20-8) to their 13th win in their past 15 games.
Pitching into the eighth inning for the first time in his career as an MLB starter, Cortes had his no-hitter broken up by Eli White’s one-out single to right-center field.
The Rangers’ first hit came on Cortes’ 103rd and final pitch of the day (one off his career-high), after which Boone came to get him. The crowd saluted the 36th-round pick with a standing ovation as he walked off the mound after giving up four walks and striking out 11.
“After the fifth inning, it felt kind of special. I was just trying to maintain it,” said Cortes, who lowered his ERA to 1.41 across six starts this season and 2.52 since the start of last year.
Boone said he was going to let Cortes go until he gave up a hit, unless his pitch count got out of hand with more walks.
“Honestly, I felt pretty good going back out for the eighth,” Cortes said. “Obviously when the emotions and adrenaline are rushing, everything feels great. But now I feel like I got hit by a truck.”
In Cortes’ latest gem, further proving that his breakout season last year was not a fluke, he leaned on his cutter, the pitch that fools hitters by looking like a fastball coming out of his hand. He threw it 51 times and it induced 12 swings and misses, including six of his strikeouts.
“I think the first one of the game to [Marcus] Semien, it looked like it just disappeared,” Boone said. “Looked like a Steve Carlton slider.”
Clay Holmes relieved Cortes in the eighth and rolled up a double-play ball to get out of the inning. Aroldis Chapman then worked around a two-out single in the ninth to record the save.
Cortes was on from the start, needing just nine pitches to get through a 1-2-3 first inning with a pair of strikeouts. He later struck out five straight batters in the third and fourth innings.
It took him 83 pitches to get through four innings in his last start against the Blue Jays, but on Monday he zoomed through the first six innings on 74 pitches — a pitch count he said he was keeping an eye on throughout the game.
The Rangers made Cortes throw 20 pitches in the seventh inning, as he walked two of the first three batters. That prompted a mound visit from pitching coach Matt Blake with Chad Green beginning to warm in the bullpen.
“He was starting to spill out of his delivery and lose his posture a little bit,” Blake said.
But Cortes rebounded by striking out Andy Ibanez and getting Kole Calhoun to ground out to end the inning.
Rangers right-hander Jon Gray and reliever Brock Burke combined to stifle the Yankees for seven innings before they finally got a run in the eighth. The Yankees scored only five runs in the series, but thanks to some dominant pitching, it was enough to win two of three.
“At the end of the day, [a no-hitter] is very hard to do obviously,” Cortes said. “I feel like when you’re in that point of the game, you give your team a shot to win and that’s the most important thing.”