My son and I went to see the Yankees play in nearby Anaheim on the night of June 12, and it couldn’t have been better. Angels Stadium was overrun with Yankee fans, a boisterous group who came to praise Aaron Judge and bury the past few seasons of Yankee mediocrity. All of us got what we came for as Judge launched a homer to put the game away (eliciting chants of M!V!P!, right there in Mike Trout’s house) and the Bombers won their fifth straight game, reaching a high-water mark for the season at 38-23.
What’s happened since has been well documented. The seven-game losing streak that began on June 13 was just a taste of the slide yet to come. The Yankees have won neither a series nor consecutive games since then, wandering through the wilderness on a 10-22 streak that threatens to erase all the hard work and good fortune of April and May, and eliminate any hope for October.
Thank the Ghosts for Luís Severino. Feel free to fall in love with Aaron Judge if you haven’t already, keep holding that torch for Gary Sánchez, and lament all you want about Clint Frazier’s impending demotion, but Severino deserves as much hype as those three. (The next Core Four? Dare we dream so big so soon?)
Severino opposed the Mariners’ Felix Hernández, who is somehow already 31, and the two of them traded zeroes through the game’s first five innings. The Yankee hitters offered little resistance, earning just a second-inning walk, a third-inning single, and a walk that produced a fourth-inning double play. Early on, it was just another one of those games where you sat wondering how they’d ever manage to score.
Thinks weren’t quite that easy for Severino, but he rose to the occasion when challenged, aided by a fastball that’s rapidly become one of the best weapons in the league. (By the way, here’s an interesting article in which Tom Verducci explains that even though Yankee pitchers have the highest average velocity on their fastballs, no staff in baseball throws as few fastballs as they do, a trend that seems to be spreading throughout baseball.) But back to Severino. He blazed a 99-MPH fastball past Kyle Seager with runners on first and second to end the first, induced a pop-up from Mike Zunino to end the second with a runner on third, and wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth by victimizing Jean Segura, showcasing 100-MPH heat just off the plate before using a curve to induce a feeble ground ball to short.
The spell was finally broken in the top of the sixth. Five minutes before midnight Eastern Stadium Time, Brett Gardner crushed King Felix’s ninetieth pitch, launching it deep into the Seattle night for a 1-0 Yankee lead. It still seems odd to see Gardner hitting no-doubters, as he occasionally does, but that’s what this was. Hernández was cursing himself before finishing his follow-through, Gardner was in his home run trot just a step out of the batter’s box, and Robinson Canó immediately began examining the dirt between his feet at second base. No doubt.
But would that single run be enough? Severino came back out and immediately took the game by the throat, retiring the Mariners on ten dominant pitches in the sixth and just eleven in the seventh. How good has Severino been lately? In his last two starts, opposing Chris Sale in Boston and King Felix in Seattle, his numbers are impressive: 14 IP/12 H/1 R/3 BB/12 K/1.07 WHIP/0.64 ERA. The Yankees may be sliding, but Severino is riding a personal three-game winning streak.
In the top of the eighth the Yankee hitters scratched out another run, but that single run should’ve been so much more. Aaron Judge found himself at the plate with the bases loaded and only one out, and I found myself irrationally hoping for a grand slam that would ice the game and soothe any concerns about Judge’s current slide. Instead it was a soft liner into right that moved everyone along ninety feet. If it were a fish you wouldn’t throw it back, but you wouldn’t mount it on the wall either. Matt Holiday came up next and grounded into a third-to-first double play, and the inning was over. (Side Note #1: Seattle’s Tony Zych faced the final three batters of that inning, and to confirm what you’re wondering, I looked it up. Assuming they still publish a hard copy of The Baseball Encyclopedia, Zych would be on the very last page. Side Note #2: On the first page of that volume you’ll find one-time Seattle pitcher David Aardsma, meaning that the Mariners are the alpha and omega of Major League Baseball. Kind of.)
Severino had thrown an easy 100 pitches over seven frames, and even though it might’ve been nice to send him out for the bottom of the eighth and squeeze another inning out of him, it seemed the perfect time for Joe Girardi to take advantage of his shiny new bullpen (The Embarrassment of Pitches?). I expected to see our old friend David Robertson in the eighth inning role, but Delin Betances came in instead. Even though the boxscore makes it look like he struggled, it wasn’t that serious. Sure, the hit by pitch was concerning, but the single that followed was just a harmless ground ball that found its way between Castro and Headley, and were it not for a botched double play, the inning could’ve been over a batter earlier than it was. (It also could’ve been much worse; that botched double play went to review, and I was ready for them to rule that Castro hadn’t actually secured the (wild) throw from Betances and put the runner back on second, loading the bases with just one out, but the ruling came down in favor of the Yankees.) The inning ended uneventfully.
Even after Double Agent Cano gift-wrapped two runs with a throwing error in top of the ninth, doubling the Yankee lead to 4-0, Girardi still sent Aroldis Chapman out to pitch the ninth, no doubt hoping to get his closer straightened out. That didn’t happen. If you weren’t watching, you still know exactly what it looked like. The fastball was live, but there was no control. He walked Mike Zunino to lead things off, then two pitches later he missed his target by about four feet, blazing a fastball past a lunging Sánchez for a wild pitch that sent Zunino to second. Chapman recovered to strike out Jean Segura and Ben Gamel, but it took 14 pitches for him to slog through those two at bats, and it didn’t seem that much had been straightened out. Due next was Canó, who reached to his shoes to slash at a slider and lace a double to the gap in right center, driving in a run and shrewdly maintaining his cover. The next batter popped up harmlessly to the right side, and the game was done. Yankees 4, Mariners 1.
Ah, but tomorrow night brings the question the Yankees haven’t been able to answer since that night in Anaheim more than five weeks ago. Can they win two games in a row? Tomorrow night they will. Book it.