NEW YORK -- Reminders of excellence rolled onto the Yankee Stadium warning track, in sunglasses and on golf carts, with pinstripes draped over dress shirts and paired with slacks. This was shortly past noon under the high Saturday sun, hours before the Yankees ran away with their second straight win over the Blue Jays, an 11-6 showing not unlike the type those waving legends used to pile up.
No team in baseball history won more than the 125 games the Yankees of 1998, the honorees of Saturday's on-field, pregame ceremony, did that year. It's possible no team ever will. But at the same time, what that team achieved in the end is what the Yanks' current crop aspires to. New York doesn't doubt it is talented enough to contend for another title, should it succeed in ironing out some wrinkles that have emerged recently.
In the center of those efforts sits Luis Severino, whom the Yankees have tried, for weeks, to help stop his second-half slide. The Yankees know it's imperative to buoy Severino back to his pre-All-Star-break level, and they've exhausted all avenues in attempting to do so. Though Severino wasn't dominant over five-plus innings, they now hope his largely successful Saturday at least planted seeds for getting him there.
"A giant step in the right direction," said Yankees manager Aaron Boone of Severino, who earned his American League-best 16th win. "He came out on the attack real early. There was some urgency."
It was behind the Yankees' largest offensive output in more than a month that Severino limited the Jays to two runs, winning for just the second time in seven starts. Spotting his fastball with increased precision, Severino struck out eight -- including the side in the fourth -- against two walks. He threw 68 of his 100 pitches for strikes, his best percentage since July 23. The Yankees crushed four home runs in support.
"Most of the game, I was dominating. ... My body is feeling strong, and my confidence is way up." Severino said. "I was commanding my fastball better than the last couple outings."
Both Severino and Boone pointed to the righty's inability to harness that pitch as the crux of his recent struggles, which produced a 1-4 record and 7.84 ERA for Severino over his previous six starts. He'd been bedeviled by the long ball over that span, his home run rate spiking by a multiple of five in his past seven outings. By not "overthrowing" on Saturday, Severino said, he kept the ball in the park and spotted better down in the zone. Only two of the six hits he allowed came on fastballs.
It didn't hurt Severino that he pitched with a large cushion. The Yankees pounced early and often on losing pitcher Sean Reid-Foley, whom they tagged for eight runs (six earned) in his second MLB start. Didi Gregorius, Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Andujar all went deep off him, with Andujar's fifth-inning blast stretching New York's lead to 8-0 and highlighting a three-hit, three-RBI day. Andujar's 20th big fly of the season pulled him into a tie with San Diego's Christian Villanueva for the MLB lead among rookies.
Stanton's fourth-inning shot inched the slugger closer to a milestone of his own. The 32nd homer of Stanton's season also marked No. 299 of his career; he's now hit more in August (eight) than in any month of his Yankees tenure. Gregorius opened the scoring by punching a two-run homer in the first, and Greg Bird added a solo tater in the eighth off reliever Luis Santos. All told, the offense gave Severino an 8-0 lead to work with, which proved valuable when the Jays tagged Tommy Kahnle for three runs (two earned) in their five-run sixth after Severino exited.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Not beginner's luck: Overshadowed a bit in the first half by his teammate Gleyber Torres, Andujar has remained hot throughout the summer to emerge as the frontrunner in the American League Rookie of the Year Award field. He padded that candidacy Saturday, when his 428-foot homer capped his seventh three-hit game of the year.
The 23-year-old paces all qualified AL rookies in hitting (.300), slugging (.534), home runs (20), RBIs (63), runs (62), wOBA (.366) and WAR (2.4).
"He's wreaking havoc as a rookie, and for the other rookies trying to catch him," Stanton said of Andujar.
One pitch prior to Gregorius' first-inning tater, Brett Gardner swiped second on the battery of Reid-Foley and Danny Jansen, who sport a combined six Major League games of experience between them. The steal was No. 252 of Gardner's career, putting him in sole possession of third place on the Yankees' all-time list. Gardner had been tied with Willie Randolph.
Andujar became the fifth Yankee to reach the 20-home run plateau this season. They are the first team in the Majors with five players to do so (Andujar, Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge and Stanton).
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
Already without everyday backstop Gary Sanchez, the Yankees' catching depth took another hit when Austin Romine was removed from the game after being struck in the mask with a foul ball. Boone said Romine passed concussion tests after exiting in the sixth. Even so, the Yankees hope they can manage without him until at least Tuesday, though they will continue to monitor Romine throughout the weekend. Promoting another catcher would require a 40-man roster move.
"We took him down in the tunnel in-between innings, felt like he was OK. But seeing the video and seeing him tumble like that, we wanted to be careful," Boone said. "Right now, he seems to be fine."
HE SAID IT
"I practice hard every day, and that's the biggest thing. When I come here, I just tried to do the best I can. I tried to help my team and play hard. That's all I can control." -- Andujar
When J.A. Happ was traded to the Yankees last month, he knew the day would come soon when he'd face his former club. That day is Sunday, as Happ (13-6, 3.86 ERA) lines up against Toronto, where he played parts of six seasons, in the finale of a three-game set at Yankee Stadium. He'll look to remain undefeated in pinstripes, having gone 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA in three starts so far for New York. Rookie left-hander Ryan Borucki (2-2, 3.29 ERA) will oppose for the Jays, looking to avoid a sweep. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. ET.