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Luis Severino gives Yankees ace in hole for playoffs

Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino reacts after the Rays'

Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino reacts after the Rays' Corey Dickerson struck out with two runners on base for the third out during the third inning on Sept. 27, 2017.  Photo Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

New York has hosted two major league baseball wild-card games and seen the home teams combine to score zero runs. So, yeah, we get it: Having the right pitcher at the right time for a one-game season can be helpful.

The question for the Yankees come Tuesday will be whether their own Luis Severino can do something close to what Dallas Keuchel of the Astros did to the Bombers in 2015 and Madison Bumgarner of the Giants did to the Mets last year.

Shutout optional. Victory essential.

Wednesday night brought the final piece of evidence before young Severino retakes the Yankees Stadium mound, presumably against the Twins, for the biggest game of his career to date.

And, well . . . while we do not yet know how Severino will respond to the pressure of an elimination game, we do know that he closed September answering every regular-season question about his readiness.

He faced the Rays coming off a three-inning outing against the Twins on Sept. 20 in which he allowed three earned runs while facing only 14 batters.

Severino’s response: four hits and one run over six innings and 91 pitches, the 10th time in 14 starts since the All-Star Game that he allowed no more than one earned run. He struck out nine and walked one.

In the process he raised his strikeout total to 230, tying CC Sabathia in 2011 for third on the Yankees’ all-time single-season list. (He came up nine short of second-place Jack Chesbro’s 239 in 1904. But in fairness, Chesbro pitched 454 2/3 innings.)

Asked what he was most proud of about his season, Severino said, “Everything. My command, not missing my pitches, my approach on the mound, my thinking, everything.”

Severino said he never has pitched in a playoff game of any kind at any level. So what will getting the ball Tuesday mean to him?

“It means a lot,” he said. “Last year they didn’t trust me to even start a regular (season) game and right now I have an opportunity to open the postseason, so that would be great. I feel proud of myself, and the team, too.”

Severino labored a bit in the first inning, needing 23 pitches while struggling to find the strike zone. But his efficiency improved after that, and in the fourth he pumped his arms upon striking out Corey Dickerson with runners on second and third to keep the game scoreless.

Adeiny Hechavarria led off the fifth for the Rays by homering to give the visitors a 1-0 lead, but not to worry. Naturally, Aaron Judge hit a two-run double in the bottom of the inning.

The Yankees’ 6-1 victory improved Severino’s record to 14-6. Before this season he had a mere 22 major-league starts, and a career record of 8-11.

“I felt good about him going into the playoffs no matter what he did tonight, but he had a really good outing,” said Joe Girardi. “He made one mistake with a hanging slider, but really good.”

The whole thing is rather remarkable, and no matter what happens on Tuesday the Yankees seem to have a 23-year-old gem for the rotation to go with the Baby Bombers in the batting order.

Still, it would be a gosh-darn shame after this feel-good season if the Yankees do not advance at least to the ALDS. If Severino gives them six innings against the Twins like the six he gave them against Rays, then hands the ball to the bullpen, all should be well.

Girardi suggested before the game that in the unlikely event the Yankees were to tie the Red Sox for first place, Severino would be ready to go in a Monday tiebreaker.

At this point, he seems ready for anything.

New York Sports