NEW YORK -- New York Yankees starter Nestor Cortes was taken out of his team's season-ending loss to the Houston Astros in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series in the third inning because of a left groin injury.
On a windy and cool Sunday night, and with the game starting after an hour-and-a-half rain delay, Cortes struggled with his command, taking six of the first 10 batters he faced to a three-ball count.
Cortes appeared to slip on the mound at the start of the third inning while facing Jose Altuve -- his fastball also dropped 3 mph from the end of the second inning to the third -- but he gave a thumbs up to the Yankees' dugout before manager Aaron Boone and head athletic trainer Tim Lentych came out to check on him.
"He said he was fine,'' Boone recalled. "I'm not going to just pull him out of the game because he isn't perfect.''
"It's kind of embarrassing that that happened, obviously, with the circumstances we were in,'' Cortes said.
Cortes had reaggravated his strained left groin during workouts in the five days ahead of the division series opener against Cleveland on Oct. 11 but made a pair of starts against the Guardians and won Game 5.
He allowed a single and a walk in the first two innings against the Astros, then walked Martin Maldonado leading off the third and had a 2-1 count on Altuve when Boone made the mound visit after his eighth pitch of the inning.
"He asked me how I felt and I told him, 'I feel well enough to compete. I feel great,''' Cortes recalled. "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 respect from him to leave me out there and grind through it.''
Cortes threw 17 fastballs in the first two innings against Houston ranging from 89.4 to 92.4 mph. His seven in the second inning were from 87.7 mph to 89.1 mph.
"It gradually got worse. It started locking up on me there in the third,'' Cortes said.
Altuve's walk marked the first time the 27-year-old All-Star left-hander walked consecutive batters this year. He fell behind 3-1 when Pena homered on a cutter, driving it into the left-field seats.
"I don't think that homer was because I was hurt,'' Cortes said. "It was just, he put a good swing to it. I thought I had located the pitch pretty well.''
Cortes did not pitch between Aug. 21 and Sept. 8 because of a strained left groin, then returned to make five regular-season starts and two in the division series, when he allowed three runs in 10 innings.
"It's been lingering for a while,'' he said.
Cortes thought he could pitch through it, and Boone believed him.
"We've been dealing with this on different levels for a couple months,'' Boone said. "He said he was fine and then obviously wasn't quite fine enough.''
Cortes was replaced by lefty reliever Wandy Peralta. Houston took a 4-3 lead later in the third off Peralta when Yordan Alvarez doubled, took third on Kyle Tucker's single and scored on Yuli Gurriel's single.
Cortes ended up throwing just 28 of 55 pitches for strikes, allowing two hits and three walks in two innings. The outing was his shortest of 2022.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.