RailRiders Manage Doubleheader Split Against Buffalo
MOOSIC — Last time he took the mound, Nestor Cortes had to take one for the team. The RailRiders needed innings, and even though he let up seven runs, they needed the innings to come from him.
Cortes gave his team innings again Saturday, but this time, he left with a win.
The southpaw allowed one run on three hits in six innings as the RailRiders took the first game of a doubleheader against Buffalo, 3-1, at PNC Field. SWB’s comeback fell short in the second game, with Buffalo hanging on, 6-4, to walk away with a split.
“Once you go more than five innings and you give your team a chance to win, it’s always a good thing,” Cortes said.
Cortes’ only misstep came in the second inning, when a single and a hit batter had the first two on base. He bounced back with a strikeout and got former teammate Billy McKinney to fly out, but Tim Lopes jumped on a pitch and lined it to right for an RBI single.
“Well, at the beginning, I thought nothing was working for me,” Cortes said. “Zone was kind of tight. Umpire wasn’t giving me the benefit of the doubt. Battled through it. Other than that, I think my cutter, at the end, was working and that’s what I went with.”
He walked the leadoff batter in the third, then retired 10 in a row, striking out four.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. broke up the streak by working a one-out walk in the sixth inning. Danny Jansen followed with a double that pushed Guerrero to third, then Cortes stranded the runners with a strikeout and a foul out.
Cortes walked two and struck out seven, putting his last start — when he allowed seven runs on eight hits in seven innings — behind him.
“The past two outings haven’t been good for me,” he said. “So, just that sense of urgency where I need to bear down and throw strikes and keep my head in the game and command all my pitches was keeping me in there. I couldn’t afford to let my team not be in a winning position come sixth, seventh inning.”
The RailRiders tied the game in the third with straight singles against Buffalo starter Matt Tracy, a former Yankees farmhand. L.J. Mazzilli started it with one out, hustled to third on Tyler Wade’s base hit and scored on another from Abiatal Avelino — his first of four hits in the doubleheader.
Tracy worked into the sixth inning, but walked Zack Zehner and allowed a bunt single to Mark Payton to end his night. Wilkin Castillo welcomed reliever Jose Fernandez with a sacrifice bunt, but Fernandez tried to get Zehner at third, and his throw bounced away from Guerrero, allowing Zehner to score. Avelino’s two-out single made it 3-1.
Buffalo’s offense got going in the second game, scoring one run in the second inning on Roemon Fields’ two-out double and then adding five more in the third against RailRiders starter Raynel Espinal.
Dwight Smith Jr. led off with a double and McKinney launched a triple to left-center for a 2-0 lead. Guerrero shot a single to right to score another and Richard Urena made it 6-0 by golfing a three-run homer to right.
The RailRiders started chipping away in the bottom of the inning on Avelino’s two-out RBI triple.
They added two more the next inning. Mike Ford led off with a booming double to right center and advanced to third on a passed ball. Ronald Torreyes followed with a ground ball to first, but when Rowdy Tellez’s throw missed pitcher Thomas Pannone at the bag, Ford scored and Torreyes made it all the way to third. Zehner’s double made it 6-3.
The RailRiders loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth, forcing Buffalo to call on reliever Conor Fisk. He jumped ahead of Zehner, but the outfielder managed to poke a two-strike RBI single to right to cut it to 6-4. Fisk got newest RailRider Gio Urshela to pop out to avoid any further trouble.
Stephen Tarpley kept the RailRiders in the game with 3⅔ innings of sparkling relief. The lefty allowed two hits, walked one and struck out five.
Urshela, who was traded from Buffalo to SWB just hours before the first game started, would come up in the RailRiders’ last chance to score. With the tying runs at second and third with two outs in the seventh, Buffalo reliever Justin Shafer struck out his former teammate to notch the save and end the game.
“It’s tough coming to a different team in the first place,” RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell said. “And to get up there in that situation, we all understand. That’s a tough at-bat. They know how to pitch you, coming from a team that knows you well. He gave it all he’s got.”
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