The Yankees eliminated the Twins Monday night, in part because Luis Severino waved his wand and out came a couple of magic tricks.
The first, frankly, came in the opening frame when Severino induced a double play out of Nelson Cruz; Max Kepler had walked on 5 pitches and Jorge Polanco flew out after a fairly wild 7 pitch sequence. Sevy looked way too fired up — more on that in a second — and wasn’t pitching with precision. No matter how good your stuff is, you gotta be in control.
Against Cruz, Severino looked better; he tossed a first-strike changeup middle-in, missed outside the zone with a slider and got Cruz to dribble a changeup to Gleyber Torres for the double play. Great work.
The second inning opened with more trouble, though. Eddie Rosario went over a fastball well out of the zone and doubled. Severino then walked Mitch Garver on five pitches — again, Sevy looked borderline out of control on the mound — and allowed a single to Luis Arraez on a high fastball.
Bases loaded. No out. One run lead. Target Field was ready to detonate, ready to extinguish years of playoff futility and my oh my, wasn’t the stage set? Miguel Sano is a really good hitter (138 OPS+) and Severino, for all his talent, was crumbling on the mound and has a history of epic playoff disasters. Twins fans had every reason to be excited.
And then … Sevy got it together. He worked Sano up and in with both fastballs and sliders, forcing Sano to adjust to the differences in velocity while being crowded. He changed eye level once, too, for good measure — the seventh pitch of the at-bat, a slider below the zone. When Sevy came back with another fastball high and in, Sano could only pop out to the mound.
That’s magic trick number two.
If Sevy was scratching his way toward focus against Sano, he gained clarity against Marwin Gonzalez. A four slider demolition of the former Astro, drawing swinging strikes on the same pitch in the same spot. Former Yankee Jake Cave was the last hope for the Twins in the second, staring down the barrel of a devastating letdown for a team and a fanbase so accustomed to it. This was terribly familiar, I imagine. Cave fought off a couple of good sliders and fouled off a 98 MPH fastball out of the zone only to get frozen on a slider for strike three.
I want to point out something. After Severino gets Gonzalez, he lets out a roar on the mound. Notice what Gary Sanchez does. Take a look (17 seconds in).
Luis Severino: one of the best pitchers in the world
Absolutely critical gesture by Sanchez to remind his young starter to keep in control. The inning wasn’t over; yes, he had already done something impressive and was on track for something incredible, but Severino and Sanchez hadn’t finished the job. Jake Cave was a double away from sending Target Field into a frenzy and Aaron Boone to his bullpen. The job wasn’t finished.
Severino rides emotion. All pitchers do. Do you think Max Scherzer doesn’t feel the thrill of a big strikeout? Of course, he does. But he controls that emotion, uses it to help him focus. Severino is still working on this, and thanks to Sanchez he found that center in a critical moment. It was obvious after the Sano popout that he was calming down amidst the storm; that focus helped him finish off Jake Cave.
One pop out. Two punchouts. Sevy had done it. And sure, Sevy worked right into and out of trouble again in the third inning, but that moment with Sanchez was critical. I suspect Boone and his staff noticed it too. A controlled Luis Severino is a lethal pitcher.