Yankees' Aaron Boone defends leaving gimpy Nestor Cortes on mound in ALCS Game 4

Yankees' Aaron Boone defends leaving gimpy Nestor Cortes on mound in ALCS Game 4

The Yankees got just two-plus innings out of their starting pitcher Sunday night. Nestor Cortes had to be pulled from Game 4 of the ALCS with what manager Aaron Boone and the Yankees called a persistent groin injury.

But the events that led to Cortes being pulled is bringing a lot of scrutiny on Boone.

It was immediately apparent that Cortes didn’t have his best stuff. He had four three-ball counts in his first two innings and seemed to have a bend-don’t-break approach to every Astros batter he faced.

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After he walked the first batter in the third inning — the second straight inning he issued a leadoff walk — Boone and a Yankees trainer approached him on the mound. After Cortes assured them he was fine, he walked Jose Altuve (the sixth three-ball count of the game). No. 7 was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

He fell behind 3-1 to Jeremy Peña, and the ALCS MVP homered to erase the Yankees’ 3-0 lead and start the game over.

Boone and the trainer came to the mound again and Cortes was out, which gave Wandy Peralta all the time he needed to warm up as his replacement.

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Boone told TBS’s Lauren Shehadi during the game that Cortes aggravated a groin injury that had plagued him all postseason.

Cortes’ velocity was down (1.6 mph slower on his four-seam fastball, 1.9 mph slower on his cutter, and 3.1 mph slower on his slider), which was another red flag.

After the game, a 6-5 season-ending loss, Boone was confronted with his decision to leave Cortes in the game after visiting before the Altuve walk.

“We’re so up against it there like, if we’re going out with the trainer we feel like he’s sound . . . no, I’m not going to just pull him out of the game because he isn’t perfect,” Boone said. “So once we felt like he was sound, obviously the homer and . . . we don’t just automatically pull guys in the second or third inning when we feel like they’re sound.”

Cortes acknowledged the injury after the game.

“There were no workouts here in the off-days,” he told reporters. “I didn’t think too much of it. Obviously I pitched through it, I competed, so I don’t think it was enough to set me aside or to IL me.”

He also didn’t use it to dismiss the home run by Peña.

“I sucks I gave up that three-run homer in the third inning,” he said. “It’s kind of embarrassing that that happened, obviously with the circumstances we were in, and obviously we knew we had to win this game.”

When asked if he could have stayed on the roster if the Yankees had come back to win the ALCS (a replacement would have disqualified Cortes for any remaining Yankees postseason games), Cortes said he was getting further tests.

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“I don’t know. I’m going to get an MRI tomorrow,” he said. “We’ll have to see to check what it looked like but . . . yeah, that’s all I got.”

With regard to the mound visit, Cortes told reporters what he told Boone.

“[Boone] asked me how I felt,” Cortes said. “And I told him I feel well enough to compete. I feel great. 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 that respect from him to leave me out there and grind through it. . . . My velo dropped and my command wasn’t there and he made that decision.”

The question that will plague Boone, of course, is if he made the decision too late. After visiting Cortes once and having no one warming in the bullpen, perhaps he placed a bit too much on Cortes’ arm. Ultimately, it may not have been what cost the Yankees the series. But heading into an offseason that was already going to be full of questions about Boone’s future, this decision may raise even more questions.