With Luis Severino thriving at the forefront of their pitching staff earlier this season, the Yankees stood right alongside Boston atop the AL East. They even were on pace to challenge the franchise record of 114 regular-season victories set two decades ago.
The All-Star ace’s midsummer slump has been an alarming factor in the Yankees’ slog through mediocrity during the past two months, but perhaps Severino took a small step in the right direction in a sloppy 11-6 victory over Toronto on Saturday at the Stadium.
After the fabled 1998 World Series champions were honored in a pregame ceremony, Didi Gregorius, Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar and Greg Bird homered in support of Severino, who was charged with two runs and allowed six hits in five innings-plus to tie Max Scherzer for the major-league lead with 16 wins.
“Better. I thought he came out on the attack early,” Aaron Boone said. “I thought there was some real urgency, especially in that first inning. I thought the fastball was much better today, much crisper.
“All in all, I thought he threw the ball really well . . . A giant step in the right direction.”
Like Severino, the Yankees had taken a sizable step backward since their 50-22 start as of June 21, a .692 winning percentage that had them looking primed to challenge the 1998 squad’s franchise mark of 114 regular-season wins. After going 11-2 in the postseason, that team wound up with a 125-50 record.
Boone’s team has registered a 27-24 record since its high-water mark, even including consecutive wins on Friday and Saturday. The Yankees (77-46) still own the second-best record in baseball and remain on pace for 101 wins, but they trail the AL East-leading Red Sox by 10 1/2 games. They also lead AL West co-leaders Houston and Oakland by only three games in the battle for the first wild card.
“You realize obviously what a sick pace that is and what a special thing to be a part of and go through that over the course of a regular season and that level of consistency throughout the year,” Boone said of the ‘98 Yanks. “It is something that you certainly have an appreciation for and one of the reasons you looked forward to paying respects today and seeing these guys.”
Boone certainly needed to see more than he had recently from Severino, who had a 7.50 ERA in his previous seven starts. That raised his ERA from an AL-leading 1.98 on July 1 to 3.27 after Monday’s shaky loss to the Mets.
Severino (16-6) fanned two in the opening frame, and he quickly was given a 2-0 lead on Gregorius’ two-run shot into the Yankees’ bullpen against Jays righthander Sean Reid-Foley, who was making his second career start.
The Yankees scored in each of the first five innings in building an 8-0 cushion. Stanton hit his 32nd homer of the season and seventh in the last 12 games, a drive into the Blue Jays’ bullpen in the fourth. It was the 299th of his career.
Andujar had a two-run double in the third and his 20th home run in the fifth, becoming only the eighth rookie in franchise history to reach that milestone. The double was his 36th. In the last 12 games, he has six homers, six doubles, 15 RBIs and a .388/.404/.878 slash line.
“He’s amazing,” Severino said. “Every time he hits the ball, it’s a double. I don’t remember the last time he hit a single. He’s been great.”
Severino fanned eight through five scoreless innings, but he already was up to 96 pitches. Boone pulled him at 100 after the Jays scored their first run on consecutive hits by Curtis Granderson and Justin Smoak to open the sixth.
“I think most of the game I was dominating,” Severino said. “I feel great, my body feels strong and my confidence is way up.”
Tommy Kahnle permitted an inherited runner to score before fill-in rightfielder Neil Walker misplayed a bases-loaded, two-out single by former Yankees prospect Billy McKinney for a costly error, enabling all three runners to score and make it 8-5. Bird added his first home run since July 28, a drive off the facing of the second deck in rightfield, in a three-run eighth.
It was the Yankees’ 201st home run, a pace that would give them 265 in 162 games — one more than the record set by the 1997 Mariners.
HOME RUN DERBY
Didi Gregorius, Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar and Greg Bird homered Saturday, giving the Yankees 201 for the season and keeping them on pace to equal or break the MLB record for team home runs in a season. How the 2018 Yankees fare against the top-five homer teams:
Top 5 Home Run Teams
1. 1997 Mariners, 264
*2018 Yankees, 264 (projected)
2. 2005 Rangers, 260
3. (tie) 2010 Blue Jays, 257
3. (tie) 1996 Orioles, 257
5. 2016 Orioles, 253