Throughout most of the postseason, the Yankees received dominant pitching. The staff held the potent Astros’ lineup to a .147/.234/.213 batting line across the first five games of the ALCS. For the first few innings on Friday night, it looked like Luis Severino would carry the baton. He didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning. With Justin Verlander as his opponent, one could envision a lengthy pitchers’ duel.
Severino, however, wasn’t as good as his early results suggested. From the very first inning, the young right-hander got on top of his fastball. He couldn’t locate the pitch at all. His velocity played up, to the point of regular triple-digit radar gun readings, but he couldn’t place the pitches where he wanted.
John Smoltz spent a significant time on the FS1 broadcast pointing out Severino’s inability to drive the ball down. He repeatedly indicated that all of the fastballs hovered up the strike zone. Although Severino managed to register early outs, Smoltz predicted the success would be short lived. Unfortunately for the Yankees, this premonition proved correct.
The pitch chart tells the whole story. When the Astros’ lineup realized that Severino couldn’t drive the ball down, they began to sit on pitches up in the zone. That resulted in three runs and four baserunners in the fifth inning. He struggled to throw strikes during the entire frame. Sure, the umpire squeezed him to a degree, but Severino really nibbled. He didn’t appear to have any conviction in his pitches.
Those runs ultimately cost the Yankees the game. Verlander, who apparently rediscovered his 2011 on the way to joining the Astros, took that as a mighty fine cushion. The Bombers made him work, but did anyone actually feel good about handing one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball a lead of three runs?
As the game unfolded, I thought the Joe Girardi should have employed a quicker hook with Severino. With a few hours to reflect, I feel even stronger about that. After walking two batters and surrendering a RBI single to Brian McCann, Girardi should have gone to the bullpen. Jose Altuve was due up, and while Severino overpowered him earlier in the game, this matchup felt doomed from the start. You could see his two-run RBI coming from a mile away.
Prior to Friday night’s matchup, Girardi suggested that he would treat the showdown as if it was elimination scenario. "I'm trying to treat it as win one game,” he told the New York Daily News. “It's kind of been what we've talked about the whole time we've been in the playoffs. And you just focus on that." Leaving Severino in a few batters too long, however, directly resulted in the Bombers dropping the ballgame.
Without Severino, the Yankees wouldn’t be within one game of the World Series. He’s a pillar of the the team’s success, a cornerstone of the franchise. No pitcher proves as important to the club than Severino. That said, he shouldn’t be immune to the quick hook. If Girardi was determined to clinch the pennant on Friday night, he should have gone to the bullpen after the first run came across. Now the Yankees will face a Game Seven in enemy territory. When all is said and done, a lot of decisions in the ALCS will be questioned. Expect this one to receive some scrutiny.