After looking like a serious Cy Young Award contender before the All-Star break, Luis Severino sputtered in the second half of the season. He seemed to be on the rebound at the end of September, winning his final two starts, and finishing the year with a career-high 19 victories.
Still, with his struggles lasting nearly two months, along with the dominance of J.A. Happ, questions remained about whether Severino would be chosen to start the American League Wild Card Game for the second straight year. Initially slated to take his regular turn on Sunday at Fenway Park, the outing was scratched the day before. The club announced that Sevy was still in consideration to start the winner-take-all contest with the Athletics, but manager Aaron Boone waited until Tuesday to officially tab Severino as his starter.
To say Severino didn’t fare well during last year’s Wild Card victory over the Twins is an understatement. He got behind leadoff hitter Brian Dozier, before coughing up a long home run to put the Yankees in an immediate hole. Pop out, walk, home run, single, double. It was an ugly pitching line, and even more excruciating to watch. Sevy had allowed three runs while recording only one out, leaving two ducks on the pond for the bullpen to clean up. It was the most inauspicious postseason debut in memory.
We witnessed a totally different Severino tonight. He struck out leadoff hitter Nick Martini on three pitches, with one strike thrown harder than the last. The punch-out came on a 99-mph four-seam fastball. Sevy got ahead 0-1 to MVP candidate Matt Chapman, before inducing him to ground out on the next offering. The Yankees ace completed a perfect inning by fanning Jed Lowrie on a foul tip.
The Baseball Cathedral in the Bronx was already rocking before the game even started, but Severino somehow managed to work the crowd into frenzy with his dominant first-inning performance. The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the home half, but you know what they say: The lead doesn’t really count until your pitcher keeps the opponent off the board in the next frame. Sevy did just that.
Severino struck out slugger Khris Davis swinging on four pitches, the coup de grace coming on an 86-mph slider. Sevy lost Matt Olsen to a walk on a 3-2 pitch, but then struck out the next two batters to retire the side. The Yankees right-hander had recorded five of the first six outs on strikeouts, and looked utterly dominant doing it.
Marcus Semien worked a leadoff walk in the third, but Severino retired the next three batters handily. Then the trouble came.
After Lowrie was retired on one pitch to start the fourth, Davis reached on a Miguel Andujar throwing error and Olsen followed with a walk. Stephen Piscotty hit a lazy fly ball to Aaron Judge in right field for the second out of the inning. But after getting ahead 0-2 to Ramon Laureano, Severino threw four straight pitches outside the zone. The walk loaded the bases, and Severino faced his biggest test of the night.
He passed it with flying colors. Severino got ahead 0-2 on Semien, and after wasting a pitch in the dirt, got him swinging on a 100-mph four-seamer. Sevy triumphantly stomped off the mound, roaring so loudly it could be heard on the air. The 24-year-old has panache and showed it tonight.
Jonathan Lucroy broke up the no-hitter with a clean line-drive single to left to open the fifth. Martini followed with a single to right, and Aaron Boone went to the vaunted Yankees bullpen.
Regardless of the outcome of this game, Severino did his job. He evoked memories of Nolan Ryan tonight, walking four, striking out seven, and being nearly unhittable through four plus scoreless innings.