The Yankees’ hitters have their work cut out for them in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, presented with the extraordinary challenge of facing Gerrit Cole. Luis Severino won’t have to stand in the batter’s box against the Houston ace, but Cole’s presence on the mound might put more pressure on him than anybody else in pinstripes.
Severino will have his hands full with an Astros lineup that ranked first in the Majors in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and third in both home runs and runs scored.
So although he won’t be charged with figuring out how to get runs against Cole, Severino will have to go zero-for-zero with him if he is to give the Yankees a chance to beat the Cy Young contender.
“I don't need to go out there and strike out 300 guys or win 20 games,” Severino said. “I just need to go out there and match his stuff tomorrow or be better than him. I don’t need to do more than that.”
Being better than Cole will be an immense task. Dating back to May 27, Cole is 18-0 with a 1.66 ERA in 24 starts, limiting opposing teams to two earned runs or fewer in 22 of those outings. He won both of his starts in the AL Division Series against the Rays, allowing just one run over 15 2/3 innings, giving up six hits while striking out 25.
“I’m just going to go out there and try to bring my 'A' game out there,” Severino said. “It doesn't matter who's pitching.”
Cole’s dominance will be the primary storyline heading into Game 3, and while Severino was a Cy Young finalist just two years ago, he’s definitely the underdog in Tuesday night’s matchup. Not that Severino is spending much time concerning himself with outside perceptions, something the 25-year-old has learned to do as he pitches in his third straight postseason.
“You have to block everything outside,” Severino said. “Worry about the hitters, not worry about the noise from the fans or anything else.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone likes Severino’s temperament as he prepares for the pivotal game, noting that the issues the pitcher dealt with this season -- he missed the first 5 1/2 months with shoulder and lat injuries, throwing a total of 12 innings over three September starts -- has helped him keep things in perspective.
“You've got to be able to handle situations, handle the moment, handle adversity, handle success on the fly,” Boone said. “One thing about Sevy is I feel like he's been through a lot as a young Major Leaguer; lots of success, some bumps in the road, some stumbles, an injury now this year. Postseason experiences where he's fallen down, where he's come back and dealt. Hopefully all those things equip him well heading into tomorrow.”
Tuesday will mark Severino’s eighth career postseason start, his second this month. He threw four scoreless innings in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Twins, which in this current culture, felt like a dominant effort.
Boone has not been shy about turning to his vaunted bullpen early, but when Severino found himself in a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the second inning against Minnesota, his manager allowed him to clean up his own mess. A popup and two strikeouts later, the Twins were still without a run and Severino had the same swagger the Yankees were accustomed to seeing prior to 2019.
“He got in about as big a jam as you can get in, and I thought was in complete command of himself and of his emotions and ultimately was able to execute and get out of a huge inning and give us a good outing,” Boone said. “I feel like he's very equipped to go out there. Whatever the result ends up being, he's in command of the moment.”
Severino’s postseason history has been uneven, from his disastrous debut in the 2017 AL Wild Card Game to his win over the Indians in his following start. He gave up four runs over 8 2/3 innings in a pair of starts against the Astros in the ALCS that season, though he limited Houston’s stacked lineup to two runs over 16 innings in a pair of regular-season starts in '18.
Last week’s outing at Target Field against the Twins’ Bomba Squad gave the Yankees a glimpse of the ace they have missed for most of the season, and while it surely gave New York confidence in Severino’s ability to play a key role this month, that’s one area the pitcher has never lacked.
“I always had confidence in myself; it doesn't matter what happened the year before or the day before. It's always the next day that matters,” Severino said. “A lot has happened in the past and I don't have to worry about that. I need to worry about tomorrow, make good pitches and get hitters out.”