Luis Severino's Redemption Sets Stage for Epic Yankees ALDS Comeback

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 10, 2017

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 09:  Luis Severino #40 of the New York Yankees celebrates after closing out the top of the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Four of the American League Divisional Series at Yankee Stadium on October 9, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The bad news is Luis Severino gave up as many long balls in his second career postseason start as he did in his first.

The good news is he recorded 20 more outs and, in so doing, pitched the New York Yankees to within a win of an epic comeback over a supposedly unbeatable team.

Picking up where Masahiro Tanaka left off with seven shutout innings in New York's 1-0 win in Game 3 on Sunday, Severino led the Yankees to a 7-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians with seven excellent innings of his own in Game 4 of an American League Division Series on Monday.

He wasn't perfect, serving up a two-run home run to Carlos Santana and a solo homer to Roberto Perez. But in allowing just four hits and a walk and striking out nine batters, the 23-year-old was plenty good enough to knot the series at two games apiece.

One more win, and the Yankees will become just the eighth team to dig itself out of an 0-2 division series hole. In the order of things they should be excited about, that's at the top of the list.

Assuming they can get that done, the item after that ought to be Severino's next turn on the bump.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 09:  Luis Severino #40 of the New York Yankees celebrates against the Cleveland Indians during the sixth inning in Game Four of the American League Divisional Series at Yankee Stadium on October 9, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New Y
Al Bello/Getty Images

After watching him get only one out and allow three runs on two homers against the Minnesota Twins in the American League Wild Card Game last week, the uninitiated may have thought Severino is just a guy with a big arm and no idea how to use it.

If so, what the uninitiated got in Game 4 was a look at the real Severino.

The right-hander needed 18 pitches to get through the first against Cleveland, 11 fewer than he'd spent against Minnesota. Like that, he was on his way to a 113-pitch performance that was mostly dazzling from start to finish.

Electric sliders and changeups notwithstanding, the dazzle mostly showed on the radar gun. Severino sat in the high 90s with his fastball, peaking with a 100 mph dart that caught Lonnie Chisenhall looking in the seventh inning.

Courtesy of Pitcher List, it's too good not to share:

Pitches like that were a regular feature in a regular season in which Severino dominated with a 2.98 ERA in 31 starts. His 97.6 mph average fastball was the fastest of any starter, and he ranked just a tick behind three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw in strike zone rate.

Severino's velocity showed up against the Twins. His command did not. He threw only 17 strikes and made mistakes when he did go in the zone. He was punished accordingly.

That could have spelled a disappointing end to an otherwise splendid season for Severino and the Yankees. Instead, they rallied for a win and left him to ponder a valuable lesson about being amped for October.

"I learned that it doesn't help. You know, a lot of adrenaline, trying to do too much," he said, according to Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com. "So [in Game 4], just try to calm myself down and try to breathe, and think before every pitch."

Severino didn't take on the demeanor of a zombie Monday. There were numerous moments when he let his emotions come to the surface. But rather than a guy who was overwhelmed by his emotions, he pitched like a guy who was feeding off them.

Just like that, the Yankees had their ace back.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Maybe there never was much doubt Severino had gone anywhere following his Wild Card Game debacle, and there shouldn't be any doubt he's deserving of the "ace" label.

To wit, the .603 OPS he permitted this year tied him with Boston Red Sox lefty Chris Sale and placed him behind only Indians righty Corey Kluber for the American League lead. In virtually any other season, Severino would be an easy choice for the Cy Young Award.

In the here and now, the Yankees will settle for simply giving him a chance to pitch again this season. The only trouble is that actually making that happen will be about as simple as walking into Mordor.

The place they'll actually be walking into is Cleveland, where Game 5 is scheduled for Wednesday evening. It's a place where the Indians earned 49 of their 102 wins in the regular season, as well as the place they jetted out to a 2-0 lead over the Yankees in this series.

The projected pitching matchup favors the home team. The Indians will start Kluber, who's very likely going to add a second Cy Young Award to his collection this winter. The Yankees will start CC Sabathia, a crafty yet hittable veteran.

But if nothing else, the Yankees have the momentum. Beyond that, they also have a bullpen that's well-rested thanks to Tanaka and Severino. Further beyond that, they showed with their Game 2 shellacking of Kluber that his presence alone won't necessarily be their doom.

Given that 2017 was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the fact that the Yankees have even made it this far is a feat unto itself. But why stop at "good enough" when "even better" is in reach?

    

Data courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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