In the most perfect of Yankee worlds, Wednesday night would just be a dress rehearsal for next week. It’s then that the Yankees want Luis Severino to strut confidently to the mound and mow down batters as if he’s on a level all his own. That’s when they want Aaron Judge to drive in the go-ahead runs, and when they wouldn’t mind hitting three homers in an inning.
So as far as dress rehearsals go, this 6-1 win over the Rays was pretty gratifying.
Though the Yankees still have an outside shot at the AL East title, every day they don’t move up in the standings means they’re one step closer to a wild-card game Tuesday night at the Stadium. The Red Sox defeated the Blue Jays, 10-7, to keep the Yankees three games back with four to play.
“Last year, they didn’t trust me to really start a game and now I have the opportunity to open the postseason,” said Severino, the presumptive wild-card starter who’s never pitched in a playoff game at any level. “That would be great. I feel proud of myself and of the team, too.”
But though Joe Girardi is no fan of one-game playoffs, even he has to admit the Yankees are as prepared as they could ever be. On Wednesday, that meant a typical 2017 Severino performance — which is to say, an excellent one. He allowed one run before Judge’s two-run double in the fifth got the Yankees out of a hole and in the lead for good. Starlin Castro, Greg Bird and Aaron Hicks added homers in the sixth.
It took until the fifth inning for any batter to advance past second base. That’s when Adeiny Hechavarria homered on Severino’s 1-and-2 slider to kick off the inning. The ball, which landed in the first few rows of the leftfield stands, was the 21st homer that Severino has given up in 32 starts. The righty bounced back quickly, striking out two of the next three to end the inning.
The home run was the only blemish on another strong performance. He struck out nine, bringing his season total to 230, among the best in baseball. This time last year, he had a 5.75 ERA, with 66 strikeouts in 22 appearances. In likely his final appearance of the regular season, he exited with a 14-6 record, a 2.98 ERA and a 1.039 WHIP.
Severino departed after six innings, letting up four hits with one walk, and giving way to Chasen Shreve. The Yankees left little room for the possibility of a Rays comeback, thanks to three home runs off two pitchers. Castro kicked off the sixth with a solo shot to left off starter Matt Andriese and, after Andriese was pulled for Xavier Cedeno, Bird did the same, but to rightfield. It was Bird’s seventh homer since returning from the disabled list on Aug. 26, a span of 25 games.
“Dealing with injuries, I think you go through ups and downs,” Bird said. “But I knew I could get back. It was frustrating because I really didn’t have an idea of when and we tried different things and we didn’t really get any results, so that was tough. But once I got through this and once I got the surgery and started playing again, I felt really good and I was excited.”
After Shreve, Chad Green, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman threw three scoreless innings.
The only way it can be better is if it happens again next week.