Sunday started with the Yankees honoring CC Sabathia before their final regular-season home game. Sabathia, once the team’s ace, is expected to be a bit player in the upcoming postseason. If he pitches at all, it will be out of the bullpen.
Of much more importance to the Yankees’ immediate future was Luis Severino’s second outing of the season. Severino, the team’s most recent ace, has been a bit player this season. But that could change in October.
Severino was brilliant in the Yankees’ 8-3 victory over the Blue Jays. In five shutout innings, he allowed three singles, walked none, hit a batter and struck out nine. He threw 80 pitches, 54 for strikes.
“Our ace is back,” Aaron Judge said. “I’m excited about it. Just at the right time.”
Severino (1-0) made his 2019 debut on Tuesday with four shutout innings against the Angels after unrelated shoulder and lat injuries kept him out for more than five months. He will have one more start before the Yankees' postseason begins on Oct. 4.
“I feel great,” Severino said. “Every time it’s getting better and better.”
Manager Aaron Boone agreed. “Really good,” he said. “And thought he got sharper as it went on, so that was good. Threw some good sliders. Missed with some, got away with a couple. I thought his changeup was a real factor today and I thought he had a real feel for it and I thought it improved. Fastball was good. Thought he got it up when he wanted to really effectively. You’ve got to be excited about what you saw again.”
Boone was excited enough to confirm that Severino will be one of his starters in the playoffs.
“I think he’s going to play a huge role for us,” he said. “If we’re going to get far in this thing, Sevy’s going to have to pitch well.”
Boone announced a pitching plan for the regular season’s final five games that offers a window into his possible rotation for the Division Series.
The Yankees are off Monday and Thursday. Boone said he will use openers Tuesday (with Sabathia pitching in relief) and Wednesday (with J.A. Happ pitching in relief).
Then, next weekend at Texas, it will be James Paxton, Severino and Masahiro Tanaka (on extra rest) as starters. Is that how they’ll line up in the Division Series? Boone wouldn’t say yes, but it would make sense if it ended up being just that.
With their 102nd victory, the Yankees clinched home-field advantage in the ALDS and finished with a home record of 57-24. They had an identical home record in 2009, the last year they won the World Series. At 47 games over .500 for the first time since 1998, they trail the Astros by a half-game for the majors’ best record, but Houston holds the tiebreaker.
Judge hit his 26th home run into the ambulance bay in left-center off former Met Wilmer Font (2-3) in the first inning. After two walks, Brett Gardner hit his 27th into the second deck in rightfield to give the Yankees a 4-0 lead.
In the second, DJ LeMahieu hit his 26th homer, a two-run shot to rightfield off Trent Thornton, to make it 6-0. Giancarlo Stanton had a sacrifice fly and Luke Voit added an RBI single in the fifth to expand the lead to 8-0.
With five games to play, the Yankees have hit an MLB-record 298 home runs, including 33 in their last 14 games. The Twins have hit 297 and have six games remaining.
Sabathia was honored with a moving on-field ceremony that included a lengthy video tribute from his current and former teammates and current and former foes and another video tribute from his family, who read letters to him. The Yankees presented Sabathia with platitudes, a painting and a 10-day family trip to Japan before he threw out the ceremonial first pitch to his mother.
“This is an honor,” Sabathia told the appreciative crowd of 44,583 after wiping away tears. “This is unbelievable.”
Many Yankees, including Boone, admitted to being near tears themselves. Gardner said he told Judge he was going to have to put on sunglasses in the dugout.
“It was awesome,” Sabathia said. “The whole thing.”