Nestor Cortes
Gregory Fisher | USA TODAY Sports

Nestor Cortes has been a joy this year. The All-Star bid, arm angles, mustache, nickname, proposal, all of it. And now the Yankees have to hope the clock doesn’t strike midnight on him anytime soon. Because he has become the key to it all.

The Yankees aren’t going to win the World Series unless Cortes delivers in October. The last week has made that clear. They need this Cinderella story to keep rolling.

There are many millions of reasons for the Yankees to stay committed to the bit Gerrit Cole is their ace. But he inspires no confidence. Frankie Montas, the big trade deadline splash, arrives from Oakland with plenty of optimism. But he recently had shoulder inflammation. And his only substantial postseason experience was getting shelled by the Astros in the 2020 ALDS. So make that cautious optimism.

The Jordan Montgomery for Harrison Bader trade was a good one. But it comes with risk beyond Bader’s health. The Yankees clearly weren’t terribly high on Montgomery, but he was a reliable arm with postseason experience. Moving him without adding, say, Pablo Lopez leaves them little wiggle room. Jameson Taillon has been more bad than good for a while now. Who knows what to expect from Luis Severino when he returns. Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt will be bullpen arms if anything.

Which brings us back to Cortes. He’s the only guy who has consistently pitched like an ace this season. And even if Cole and Montas as Nos. 1 and 2 on paper, Cortes is the guy who has built the most equity this year. He’s the guy you wouldn’t want to cover your eyes watching in a big spot. And the Yankees need that to stay the case.

A big part of that is being smart with Cortes. Whether he is looking at an actual innings limit or not is besides the point. The Yankees do need to manage his workload over the next two months. Getting him out after five innings against the Royals last weekend with the game in hand was a smart move. Especially because those opportunities won’t be there every five days. It’s hard to imagine that will be the case Friday night against the Cardinals, for example.

But as long as the Yankees keep Cortes physically ready, the rest is up to him. If he performs, they might have enough to work around Cole’s inconsistency and Montas’ uncertainties. If Cortes doesn’t? This dream season could fall apart fast. For both player and team.

James Kratch can be reached at

James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.