ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Luis Severino didn’t recapture the first-half form that made him a strong AL Cy Young candidate on Tuesday night.
But the 24-year-old righthander showed signs that it could be around the corner, one of several positives for the October-bound Yankees in a 9-2 victory over the Rays in front of 10,953 at Tropicana Field.
“I think he is getting a little bit of that swagger back and I think pitching with more confidence,” Aaron Boone said.
High on the list of positives, as well, was a 2-for-4 night by the slumping Gary Sanchez, 1-for-27 coming into the night, who drove in four, three on his 17th homer of the season.
“It seemed like there was a little more comfort up there [at the plate],” Boone said of Sanchez, who entered the day 10-for-66 since coming off the disabled list.
The Yankees (97-60), a season-high 37 games over .500, inched closer to securing home-field advantage for the wild-card game over the A’s, who blew an 8-5 eighth-inning lead late Tuesday night and lost,10-8, in Seattle to fall to 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees.
Severino, who likely won’t be the starter for the Oct. 3 wild-card game but will be critical for any Yankees postseason success should they advance past it, allowed two runs — both in a ragged third inning — and four hits over five innings. He walked three and struck out seven in improving to 19-8 with a 3.39 ERA.
“I’ve had some struggles,” said Severino, who had a 6.95 ERA the first nine starts of the second half before allowing a combined four runs in his last three starts, comprising 17 2/3 innings. “But I know I can be good if I command my stuff, if I get on top of the ball.”
Of the postseason, Severino said: “I’m ready for anything.”
A night after the Yankees held the Rays (87-70) to two hits, Severino and three relievers — including rookie lefty Stephen Tarpley, who Boone said is pitching his way “into the conversation” for a postseason roster spot — held them to five hits.
Severino was backed by Sanchez’s big night and also by homers from Adeiny Hechavarria (No. 2 as a Yankee) and Miguel Andujar (No. 26). Andujar’s homer, which made it 9-2 in the ninth, came on an 0-and-2 count, marking his 13th homer when behind in the count, most in the majors.
The three homers gave the Yankees 255 for the season, fifth-most by any team in a season. The 1997 Mariners have the record with 264.
Sanchez’s three-run homer capped a seven-run third that blew the game open. Hechavarria sparked the inning with a leadoff homer off righthander Jake Faria, who allowed three runs and four hits in 2 1/3 innings in falling to 4-4, 5.40.
Severino struck out Mallex Smith swinging at a 99-mph fastball — the pitch Severino struggled with the most Tuesday — with the bases loaded to end the second, leading to the big third inning.
Hechavarria quickly redeemed himself from an error that helped extend the bottom of the second, leading off the third with a rocket to left on a 1-and-0 fastball, his sixth homer overall making it 1-0. Brett Gardner, a huge factor the night before after replacing the injured Aaron Hicks, followed with a triple and Andrew McCutchen walked, putting runners at the corners.
Up stepped Aaron Judge, who sent a 108.5-mph laser right back at Faria, who gloved it in an act of self-defense for the first out. Rays manager Kevin Cash sprinted from the dugout to bring in righty Andrew Kittredge, and Luke Voit greeted him by yanking a 1-and-2 changeup down the leftfield line, the RBI double making it 2-0. After an intentional walk to Giancarlo Stanton, lefty Jalen Beeks came on and promptly walked Neil Walker on four pitches to force in McCutchen to make it 3-0. Andujar’s sacrifice fly to right brought home Voit for a 4-0 lead. Sanchez followed with the homer, his first since Sept. 10.