Nestor Cortes And Jameson Taillon Author Remarkable Stories For Stellar Yankee Rotation

The New York Yankees are 51 games into what appears to be a special season, one that following each win fans hear things like this is the best start since the 114-win 1998 edition.

Perhaps out of all the special stories are the achievements authored by Nestor Cortes and Jameson Taillon who each played prominent and nearly historic roles Thursday in the latest two Yankee wins.

The story of Cortes is well-documented by this point but never stops continuing to be remarkable for a former 36th-round pick, who was twice cut by the Yankees before returning. Cortes is now the owner of the AL’s second-best ERA behind Texas left-hander Martin Perez and if he allows three earned or fewer one more time, he will tie Russ Ford for the longest streak in team history at 20 games.

Ford did it in 1910 and 1911 as part of a career where he won 74 games for the Yankees, who were also known as the Highlanders for part of his career. He was the first native of Manitoba to appear in the majors and won 13 games in 1912 for a 102-loss team, which is hard to imagine given the Yankees are on their run of not finishing with a losing record since 1992.

Cortes is doing it with some craftiness and sometimes gets it done without his best, like when he threw 42 pitches through the first two innings and then wound up easily getting through the seventh with five hits and the ability to keep Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout quiet.

On a day when he threw 40 cutters, he used to get Ohtani and Trout on the pitch four times. The one time when Cortes did not get Ohtani was when he gave up a single but he promptly used a pickoff move to get Ohtani out.

There were glimpses of this last season such as when Cortes pitched seven innings against Minnesota on Aug. 20. It was around the time “Nasty Nestor” t-shirts started appearing and his story took a turn for the remarkable on May 9 when he came within five outs of a no-hitter against the Texas Rangers.

“I can’t sit here and tell you I don’t look at the numbers. I obviously look at the numbers. I look at everything everybody posts and everybody says,” Cortes said. “It’s been pretty special. I try to compete. With that, I’ve had a lot of success.”

Cortes’ latest performance occurred as Angels manager Joe Maddon seemed to think the Yankees were really good at reading whatever pitches Ohtani was throwing, which may be valid since the Yankees have scored 11 runs in 3 2/3 innings against him so far.

Cortes merely turned out to be the appetizer on a day for pitching devotees. The main event wound up being Taillon’s flirtation with history in a pulsating 2-1 win.

Taillon retired the first 21 hitters, using six different pitches to rarely get hard contact, especially from the point of the Angels lineup after the cleanup spot. Ultimately his bid for perfection ended when Jared Walsh (the same guy who dinged Aroldis Chapman for a go-ahead grand slam in the rain on June 30/July 1) doubled and then scored the game’s first run.

Taillon fell slightly short of becoming the 24th to achieve perfection and the first Yankee to do it since David Cone, who was masterfully analyzing his array of six pitches in the YES Network booth. It was the longest perfect game bid since Chien Ming-Wang on the way to 19 wins in 2007 retired the first 22 Seattle Mariners on May 5, 2007 – the day before Roger Clemens dramatically announced he was returning to the Yankees.

“I definitely thought there’s a small chance we can do it,” Taillon said.

A perfect game is amongst the rarest of feats to achieve if not the unlikeliest.

Just to be in position for history is a terrific human interest story for Taillon, the second overall pick in the 2010 draft – behind Bryce Harper and Manny Machado – the objects of Yankee fans affection following the 2018 season.

Taillon’s path to nearly making history has hardly been as smooth as Harper and Machado’s offensive production. His MLB debut did not occur until June 8, 2016 against Noah Syndergaard in a game against the Mets.

By the time Taillon’s debut occurred, Harper was up to 110 homers and 571 hits through his 565 games while Machado was up to 83 homers and 581 hits through his first 508 games. Taillon’s debut was delayed because of a first Tommy John surgery kept him sidelined in 2015 and then after a respectable debut season, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer but remarkably made a rehab start three weeks after surgery returned to the majors a month after the diagnosis.

After a 14-win season in 2018, he underwent a second Tommy John surgery on Aug. 14, 2019 and did not return to the mound until April 2021 for his Yankee debut. Upon arriving to the Yankees, he said “health is the main goal, but I think performance will be a really good byproduct of it.”

While the first two months featured some shaky moments, notably in mid-June in Philadelphia when Taillon recorded one out and faced seven hitters, there were enough good signs the rest of the way.

And then Taillon is cementing his place in an impressive rotation, whose ERA is 2.67 through 51 games. He leads the Yankees with six wins and is ripping off an array of impressive feats such as 13 straight starts of not allowing more than three earned runs to go along with being 11-3 with a 2.84 ERA in 24 starts since July 6.

“There was a certain point I was sitting in the tunnel and I was kind of thinking, like, my buddies on other teams are probably starting to be aware of it,” Taillon said, adding: “I definitely thought there’s a small chance we could do it.”

Taillon did not complete the feat Don Larsen finished in the 1956 World Series, David Wells completed in 1998 and Cone achieved in 1999.

Instead, Taillon and Cortes just continued their own compelling human interest stories for one of the best rotations in the game.