Unfazed by Bronx stage, Bello bears down

September 26th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Having checked off nearly every box in his initiation to the Major Leagues, Brayan Bello had one more circumstance thrown at him on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium.

Boston’s rookie righty was pitching in a postseason-like environment in which a packed house of 46,707 in the Bronx was waiting for Aaron Judge to belt his 61st homer of the season to tie Roger Maris for the American League record.

Per usual, Bello didn’t blink, though he did take a tough-luck, 2-0 loss in a rain-shortened, six-inning contest that officially eliminated the Red Sox from postseason contention. 

“I felt good, really good,” Bello said. “To be honest, I didn’t realize it was so many people. Obviously I knew it was a lot of people. But it wasn’t a big problem for me or anything like that. It didn’t bother me at all.”

Though Bello did struggle when he was first called up, nothing has bothered him lately. Powered by his vaunted sinker-changeup combo, Bello mostly held down the Yankees over a strong six-inning performance, scattering six hits and one earned run, walking two and striking out four. He threw 95 pitches (61 strikes) and finished his performance in the pouring rain. 

As Bello finished his start and walked back to the dugout, the tarp went on the field. After a delay of one hour and 38 minutes, the decision was made not to continue the game.

Bello made his presence felt on the big stage that is Yankee Stadium, one that became even bigger during “Judge watch.”

“And you know the history of the rivalry and you know the history of Yankee Stadium, although this is a new one,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “He was excited, he was ready and he went out there and attacked. So it was fun to watch.”

Each time Judge came to the plate during this four-game series, there was a sense of anticipation for everyone in Yankee Stadium. Every time Judge took a swing, there was a chance for history.

Bello went right after Judge, giving up a double down the left-field line on his second pitch -- a 96 mph sinker -- in the bottom of the first. Two innings later, Bello got ahead of the mammoth slugger 0-2 and then lost him, narrowly missing the bottom of the strike zone on the fifth and sixth pitches of the at-bat. 

“I know those were big moments for him, but I wasn’t really too much tracked into that,” Bello said. “I just wanted to attack him and try to get him out as I do with any other batter. Definitely for me, nothing changed in my approach to him or anything like that. I just tried to win the at-bat.”

There was one final encounter in the fifth that Bello just managed to survive. He fired a first-pitch slider that was on the inner half of the strike zone -- an offering Judge easily could have destroyed for the much-anticipated 61. But Judge just got under it and made a 340-foot out to center.

“Yeah, I missed a little bit on that pitch,” Bello said. “It was a slider for a strike, but I left it a little bit up.”

The 23-year-old Bello has erased any question of whether he should be in Boston’s starting rotation to start the ‘23 season.

In each of his last three starts, and four of his last five, Bello has allowed one earned run or fewer. Over his five September starts, he has a 1.65 ERA. It is all starting to click for the rookie, giving the Red Sox a bright light during the late stages of a dark season.

Bello will pitch next on Friday night in Toronto and then in the final game of the season for the Red Sox on Oct. 5 against the Rays.

Anything Cora will be looking for from his potential-filled prospect from the Dominican Republic?

“Let’s see what he learns from this one. That’s the beauty of this,” said Cora. “He keeps growing and he keeps learning. It’s fun to watch.”