After Tuesday’s thriller over the Blue Jays featured Luis Cessa and Blake Parker in starring roles, the Yankees doubled down for the series finale by sending out Bryan Mitchell, whose previous tour in pinstripes ended in March with him walking off the mound at Disney World with a fractured toe.
If you had predicted that Mitchell — a lock for the Opening Day roster before his freakish injury — would return to start a pivotal September game for the wild-card-or-bust Yankees, well, congrats on being the only one. The odds of that happening were far greater than what Joe Girardi and Co. are now facing to reach the postseason after Wednesday’s 2-0 win completed a three-game sweep of AL East-leading Toronto.
Then again, the idea of the Yankees playing in October seems to be inching closer to becoming a reality with each passing day, no matter who Girardi pencils into the lineup. We’ve always believed Girardi to be one of the better managers from a strategy perspective, but with so many players now at his disposal, he’s also been fairly lucky throwing a bunch of fresh twenty-somethings at the problem.
“Their energy level is probably a little bit higher,” Girardi said. “We’ve played extremely well since they’ve gotten here and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
Mitchell provided five scoreless innings, then yielded to Luis Severino when Girardi got nervous after Devon Travis’ leadoff single in the sixth. Severino already had warmed up twice before then, which can be a tough adjustment for a kid groomed as a starter. But Severino once again excelled in his relief role, firing three more scoreless innings to set up Tyler Clippard, who served as the sub-closer for the resting Dellin Betances. Severino hasn’t allowed an earned run in six relief appearances, over 14 1/3 innings, with 18 strikeouts.
“He’s got a different edge coming out of the bullpen,” Mark Teixeira said. “Maybe he’s not holding anything back. Whatever it is, I like it.”
As for the Yankees’ playoff projections, which were at 4.6 percent before clinching the sweep, that’s one of the few numbers Girardi isn’t all that invested in.
“It’s a probability,” Girardi said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s a statistic, and statistics aren’t always right. What were the chances the Cleveland Cavaliers were going to win (the NBA title) down 3-1? Not too good. And they did.”
He’s got a point. It helped, of course, that the Cavs had LeBron James. But the Yankees appear to be doing just fine without an All-World player of their own. They dumped their best talent back at the trade deadline, and asked for the check on Alex Rodriguez, a three-time MVP, in order to have him surrender his uniform five weeks early.
Bold moves, every one. And yet the Yankees now deploy a small army of Scranton call-ups on a nightly basis in the Bronx, supplemented by just enough veteran ability to do damage in the wild-card melee that’s been developing over the past week. After taking the first two games from the Blue Jays, Girardi chose to sit both Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge for the finale, stating the need to finally rest the pair of high-ceiling prospects.
Sanchez plays a physically demanding position, and even 23-year-olds get tired. After a 1.436 OPS with 11 home runs in his first 20 games, Sanchez had slowed some over his last nine, with a slash line of .229/.325/.286 and zero homers. That’s to be expected, as Girardi described the cooling-off as “things correcting themselves, because hitters don’t like hit that forever.”
Plus, the Yankees’ resurgence is not about riding one particular budding star, and they’ve had ample contributions from most of their roster spots. Starlin Castro homered to become only the fourth Yankees’ second baseman to reach 20 for a season — joining Robinson Cano, Joe Gordon and Alfonso Soriano. But it was Mitchell who got center stage after this win, if only because of his long road back — just like the Yankees themselves.
“Tonight was very rewarding,” Mitchell said.
With even bigger surprises possibly still ahead.