Nestor Cortes had one thought during the disastrous eight-run seventh inning that led to a 9-6 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday night: “Stop the bleeding.”
It didn’t stop soon enough, and the Yankees’ season-high five-game winning streak was snapped, leaving them unable to get to within a game in the AL East standings of second-place Baltimore.
The result was stunning, considering how dominant Cortes was for the first six innings of the game, while the Yankees used three homers — two from Gleyber Torres — to build a four-run lead.
But against the improved Orioles, who might just be ready to cause problems in MLB’s toughest division, the Yankees couldn’t hold on. That would have seemed inconceivable during the last few years, especially when the Yankees and Orioles met in The Bronx.
Cortes faltered in the seventh inning, when he allowed a three-run homer to Adam Frazier.
And reliever Jimmy Cordero, a pleasant surprise so far this season, had a rough outing and gave up four runs while retiring just one batter.
The right-hander, part of a bullpen that hadn’t allowed a run in the previous five games and 22 ¹/₃ innings, entered and gave up back-to-back singles, setting up Gunnar Henderson’s pinch-hit, two-run double that gave the Orioles their first lead.
Baltimore scored three more runs in the inning with Albert Abreu on the mound.
“It happened fast,’’ Cortes said of the team’s — and his own — meltdown.
The Yankees loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the seventh, and Anthony Rizzo, who had struck out in his first three at-bats, singled to left to make it 9-6. But DJ LeMahieu whiffed and Harrison Bader grounded out.
After the start of the game was delayed by an hour and a half because of rain, Cortes came out firing.
The lefty had been shaky in two of his previous four starts, but carried a 1.37 ERA in eight appearances against the Orioles into the outing.
Cortes, who had limited the Blue Jays to two runs in six innings in his last start, pitched ahead in the count early in the game Wednesday and retired the first seven batters he faced.
Baltimore right-hander Tyler Wells, in the midst of a stellar season, also didn’t allow a baserunner until one out in the third, when Isiah Kiner-Falefa smashed a triple to dead center.
Kyle Higashioka followed by striking out, but Torres then drilled a two-out, two-run homer into the visitors bullpen in left-center. His eighth homer of the season gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
The Orioles answered in the top of the fourth, when Ryan Mountcastle took Cortes deep with one out to make it 2-1.
Kiner-Falefa hit his third home run of the year in the fifth, following Anthony Volpe’s leadoff walk. Later in the inning, Torres hit his second homer of the night as the Yankees built a 5-1 lead.
The Yankees knocked Wells out after five innings, having allowed a season-high five runs.
But Cortes crumbled in the seventh giving up a leadoff walk to Anthony Santander and a single to Austin Hays before the lefty-swinging Frazier homered off the foul pole in right to make it 5-4.
“The three runs there killed us,’’ Cortes said.
Still, the Yankees remained up by a run when he left the game.
“Our bullpen has been incredible,’’ Cortes said of the relief core that entered with an MLB-best 2.80 ERA. “To see that [happen] was a little odd, but it’s gonna happen.”
Cordero retired just one of the five batters he faced and Henderson’s double down the right-field line put Baltimore ahead. Abreu came in and allowed a sacrifice fly to Mountcastle and run-scoring singles to Santander and Austin Hays to complete the disaster.
Aaron Judge walked with two outs in the bottom of the ninth before Rizzo whiffed to end it.
The Yankees will go for a series win on Thursday.
“They’re a good ballclub,’’ Cortes said. “They’re trending upwards. It’ll be a good fight this season.”