Coached by Fenway legend Pedro Martinez, with the intimidation factor of Boston turncoat Roger Clemens, Luis Severino is a suitable antagonist to be at the forefront of this modern Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
Red Sox Nation is bitter to some degree that Martinez — a team employee — helped transform Severino into a perennial Cy Young candidate, and Tuesday night’s 11-strikeout effort in the Yankees’ 3-2 victory was another reminder of how Pedro’s mentorship has boomeranged to hurt his former club.
Severino went toe-to-toe with Sox starter Drew Pomeranz, who kept the Yankees off-balance for much of the night. And if not for some spotty glovework by Gary Sanchez, he could have pushed through the seventh inning and maybe deeper. As it was, the Yankees had a 2-1 lead when Severino exited after Eduardo Nunez’s infield single opened the seventh, with Aaron Boone choosing to pull him at 109 pitches — his third highest total of the season.
Severino lost his chance at the win when David Robertson gave up a two-out triple to Mookie Betts in that seventh inning, but he put in the extensive work to make it possible for the Yankees to now share the AL East lead with the Red Sox. Severino allowed six hits but zero walks in earning his second double-digit strikeout game this season.
“Every time I hand Sevy the ball,” Aaron Boone said before the game, “I expect great things.”
With this new crop of Baby Bombers rising up around him, we forget sometimes that Severino still is only 24, and is the unquestioned leader of a Yankees’ rotation that continues to be a surprising strength for this team. Before there was Aaron Judge, or Miguel Andujar or Gleyber Torres, it was Severino carrying the torch of the next pinstriped generation.
Despite getting knocked sideways at points throughout his development, Severino is now a model of stability for the Yankees, the rock this rotation has been built on during the past two seasons. Entering Tuesday night’s Red Sox showdown, Severino was coming off his first career shutout — against the defending champion Astros in Houston — and his Cy Young-caliber performance lately had been the cornerstone of the Yankees’ stretch of rotation brilliance.
Before Tuesday, the Yankees’ starters were 15-1 over the previous 16 games, with a 1.89 ERA and an opponents batting average of .164, according to YES stat guru James Smythe. Severino was 5-1 with a 2.11 ERA overall this season, though the Red Sox have been a personal nemesis — and especially in the Bronx, where he was 1-3 with a 5.32 ERA against Boston.
The Sanchez blemish came in the fifth inning, when Severino struck out three yet still had to get a fourth out — but not before Andrew Benintendi’s two-out RBI single cost him the only run. Severino’s slider had been nasty all night, and he fired one of the harder ones to apparently whiff Nunez leading off the fifth. There was a slight problem, however. Sanchez couldn’t get his glove to the ground to smother it and the ball skipped between his legs, rolling all the way to the backstop.
Nunez sprinted to first without a throw and Severino got stuck with a questionable wild pitch on the play. Initially, that didn’t seem to be a problem when Severino promptly struck out the next two Sox hitters — Jackie Bradley Jr. looking at a 99-mph fastball and Christian Vazquez hacking at another wicked slider. Of course, it was Betts who started the two-out trouble for Severino by punching a single to centerfield and Benintendi followed by hitting a two-strike changeup to trim the Yankees’ lead to 2-1.
Severino stranded two that inning, but giving Nunez that base on what should have been a strikeout cost him dearly in the pitch-count department. By extending the fifth, Severino had to throw an additional 17 pitches, pushing him up to 85. His rhythm was momentarily off and the clock was ticking. A 14-pitch sixth, including two more Ks, kept the Yankees’ bullpen quiet, but it was evident Severino wouldn’t get the chance to go much farther.
And that’s too bad. Because Severino was on target for another masterful night in what is quickly turning into a magical season, with yet another youngster leading the way.