NEW YORK -- When the Yankees decided to stand pat in advance of the Trade Deadline this July, general manager Brian Cashman voiced the belief that a healthy Luis Severino could provide more of an upgrade than any other available player in the marketplace. That vision is becoming reality, just in time for the club’s most important games of the year.
Making his second start since being activated from the injured list, Severino’s electric arsenal produced nine strikeouts over five scoreless innings on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, concluding the Yankees’ regular-season home slate with an 8-3 victory over the Blue Jays. With the win, the Yankees secured home-field advantage for the American League Division Series.
“I think it’s huge for us,” Severino said. “We’re a better team when we play at home. We’ve got the fans. We are comfortable when we are at home. I know we’ve clinched [the American League East], but this is not over. We have to go out there and play and do our best.”
Severino scattered three hits and hit a batter with an 0-2 offering in his 80-pitch effort, running his season tally to nine scoreless innings after having his debut delayed by injuries to his right shoulder and right lat.
The first Yankees pitcher since Pascual Perez in 1991 to throw at least four scoreless innings in his first two appearances of the year, Severino is expected to join James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka in the rotation for the American League Division Series.
“Our ace is back,” Aaron Judge said. “I’m excited about it; just at the right time. He’s coming back, he’s healthy and that’s the most important thing. I really don’t care what he’s doing right now on the mound but just as long as he’s healthy and we have him for the postseason, I think we’ll be in a good spot.”
“We’re set up in a lot of ways with our power for this ballpark,” manager Aaron Boone said. “It’s a place where you’re pretty much playing in front of a packed, energized crowd every night. I think it certainly fuels our guys.”
Judge and Gardner are enjoying their playful home run competition, which Judge referred to as “the race of the century.” Judge’s first-inning homer was his 26th, equaling Gardner’s total. That lasted until Gardner stepped to the plate later in the inning, parking his career-high 27th over the right-field wall.
“Every time I seem to get a home run, he seems to answer right back,” Judge said. “And then he gives you a little look in the dugout. It’s all fun, because we’re all competitive and we want to win, that’s the main goal. But there’s a little competition in there, trying to get those home runs as well. He says one of these days I’ll catch him, so we’ll see.”
Gardner, who is tied for the MLB lead with nine homers in September, joked that it seems like Judge is trying to keep up with him. Judge has 14 homers in his last 29 games (since Aug. 20).
“We’ll see how this week goes,” Gardner said. “I told him a few weeks ago, I was pulling hard for him to get to 30 [homers]. I think he’ll get there.”
No place like home
The next game played at Yankee Stadium will be Game 1 of the ALDS on Oct. 4, as the Yankees finished the regular season with a 57-24 home record -- identical to the 2009 club that went on to win the 27th World Series championship in franchise history, and the most recent.
“We seem to play well at home,” Gardner said. “Obviously this team is built for this ballpark, but we like being at home with our families, sleeping in our own beds and playing in front of our own fans. We like it here in our own clubhouse. Hopefully we’ll finish up strong this last week.”
The Bombers are continuing to battle the Astros and the Dodgers for the Majors' best record, which would provide home-field advantage throughout the World Series.
“First and foremost, we’ve got to take care of our guys,” Boone said. “But we’re going to pour everything into winning games, too.”