I wanted Luis Severino to start Game 1 of the ALDS. He’s the Yankees’ best pitcher, and right now, it’s essentially early April for his arm, which is when he’s his most dominant without a season’s worth of starts, innings and fatigue. The Yankees decided to pitch him in Game 3, and after winning the first two games of the series, the Yankees were sending their best starting pitcher to the mound with a chance to advance to the ALCS.
I didn’t care if Severino pitched three innings or seven innings in Game 3, I only cared about zeros. The amount of outs and innings he gave the Yankees was secondary to the amount of zeros he could give them with the bullpen well rested after essentially having Game 2 off and an off day on Sunday. Give the team zeros like he did in the 2018 American League Wild-Card Game and everything would be fine.
In the first two games of the series, I was worried for a total of three-and-a-half innings. The first two-and-a-half innings of Game 1 when the Yankees trailed 2-0, the top of the fifth in Game 1 when the Twins tied the game at 3 against Paxton and the top of the first in Game 1 when Tanaka had two baserunners on. Aside from those innings, the Yankees had the lead in the first two games. In Game 3, I was worried in the first inning, was able to calm down in the second after Gleyber Torres hit a solo home run in the top half and then was in full panic mode in the bottom half.
Severino gave up a double to Eddie Rosario, walked Mitch Garver and allowed a single to Luis Arraez. In 10 pitches, Severino had loaded the bases with no outs and I started to have flashbacks to Game 3 of the 2018 ALDS when he was inexplicably late to warm up for the game, had no command of his pitches and left with a bases-loaded, no-out jam (and the bases would clear when Aaron Boone mismanaged his bullpen). As anti-Yankees fan John Smoltz, whose Hall of Fame career is full of blemishes against the Yankees, tried to will the Twins to at least tie the game with the advantageous situation, Severino buckled down, found his command and took back control of the inning. An eight-pitch battle with Miguel Sano resulted in an infield pop-up for the first out and hardest out of the situation to record. A quick four-pitch slider barrage struck out Marwin Gonzalez swinging and then it was former Yankee Jake Cave’s turn to try to save the inning for the Twins and put the Yankees on the defensive for the first time since early in Game 1. Severino won that matchup as well, striking out Cave, and ending a 30-pitch inning for his second straight zero of Game 3.
Brett Gardner (also known as the “3-hitter”) provided a two-out RBI single in the third to give the Yankees and my blood pressure a cushion to work with. I figured Severino getting through the bottom of the second unscathed would allow him to settle down, but it didn’t as he had to escape another two-on, two-out jam in the third. It wasn’t until the fourth inning when Severino looked like himself, getting ahead in counts and attacking before his back was against the wall. The fourth inning was Severino’s only 1-2-3 inning of the game, and it ended up being the Yankees’ only 1-2-3 inning of the game, but after laboring through the first three, Severino wasn’t going to be allowed to face the Twins’ order for a third time.
Severino followed the Yankees’ Postseason Formula for Success: he gave them 12 outs. He had done his job and with everyone available in the bullpen (I hate even writing that since everyone should be available every game in the postseason, but this is the Yankees we’re talking about), four scoreless innings was more than enough to help send the Yankees to the ALCS.
When Severino exited the game, the Yankees held a two-run lead, and that meant Aaron Boone would actually have to manage the bullpen in a close game and would have an impact on the series for the first time. The routs in Games 1 and 2 had saved the Yankees and Yankees fans from finding out if their manager had learned from his mistakes which helped eliminate the Yankees a year ago, but in Game 3, beginning in the fifth inning, Boone would have a say on how the game would end.
Knowing he would need to get 15 outs from the bullpen, Boone got two outs from Tommy Kahnle (who I continue to lack trust in and who luckily got a line drive off the wall and another line drive hit directly at Gardner), let Adam Ottavino face one batter (Yankees ownership can’t be too happy that they’re paying Ottavino $9 million per season and their manager doesn’t allow him to face more than one batter) and then got the final out of the fifth from Chad Green. It took Boone three of his elite relievers to get three outs, and there were still 12 outs to get. Boone was creating a recipe for disaster with his bullpen management, and if Green wasn’t able to pitch the entire sixth or Zack Britton proved ineffective in the seventh or eighth, either J.A. Happ, Jonathan Loaisiga, Luis Cessa or Tyler Lyons would have to pitch in a game that could send the Yankees to the ALCS.
Green was able to get through the sixth, but Boone’s fifth-inning managing blunder reared its ugly head in the seventh. Knowing he only had Britton and Aroldis Chapman remaining of his elite relievers, Boone tried to sneak at least another out of Green in the seventh. There’s no sneaking outs in the playoffs though, and C.J. Cron singled to lead off the inning. (Thankfully, Didi Gregorius had extended the Yankees’ lead to 3-0 in the top of the inning.) With nine outs and two elite relievers left, Boone went to Britton and he closed out the seventh.
There were signs between the seventh and eighth that Britton might have gotten hurt as he went down the dugout tunnel. A few minutes later he reappeared in the dugout to comfort Yankees fans as Lyons began warming up in the event Britton couldn’t go. Britton gave up a solo home run on an 0-2 pitch to begin the eighth, but rebounded to get Garver to ground out before Steve Donahue had to make his way to the mound to check on Britton. Whatever was going on after the seventh hadn’t gone away, and Britton had to leave the game. (Did anyone think the Yankees could get through three postseason games without losing another player to injury?) Boone turned to Chapman, his last elite arm in the bullpen, to get the final five outs of the game and hopefully the series.
Chapman entered Game 3 having appeared in two games and having thrown 27 pitches in the last 12 days. Given his history of poor performance with infrequent use, I was more than worried. If Chapman couldn’t close out the game, the Yankees would either lose with him on the mound or go extra innings with only Happ, Loaisiga, Cessa and Lyons available. If Chapman wasn’t on, there would be a Game 4.
Chapman got the last two outs of the eighth, and then like they did in Game 5 of the 2017 ALDS, the offense went and provided insurance in the ninth. Cameron Maybin homered in his only at-bat after coming into the game as a defensive replacement for Giancarlo Stanton. Maybin entered the game with the best career history of anyone on the Yankees against Jake Odorizzi, but it would be Sergio Romo who he would get to face and homer off of. A Torres double, steal of third and Gregorius single gave the Yankees another insurance run, and with a four-run lead for the bottom of the ninth, I could smell the ALCS.
Chapman farted on the sense-pleasing smell of the ALCS when he allowed a single on an 0-2 pitch to Gonzalez to begin the ninth and then walked Cron. The Twins were turning over their lineup and had the tying run in the on-deck circle. If Nelson Cruz came to the plate as either the tying or winning run I felt like I would have a heart attack and not get to experience the Yankees’ trip to the ALCS, if they were still able to get there. Chapman struck out Max Kepler for the first out of the inning and then Jorge Polanco ripped a line drive to short, which off the bat looked like it would be a run-scoring hit and my fear of Cruz coming up as the tying run would come to fruition. Gregorius dove to his left and laid out to catch the line drive for the second out. Even if Cruz were to hit a home run, the Yankees would still have the lead. Cruz didn’t homer. Instead, he took the fifth pitch of his at-bat for a called third strike to end the game and the series.
The win was the Yankees 13th straight over the Twins in the postseason, having now eliminated them six times in the last 17 years. The Yankees outscored the Twins 23-7 in the three games, only allowing three solo home runs to the team with the most single-season home runs in history. The Yankees received production from each third of the lineup, and even their bench with Maybin’s Game 3 home run. The starting pitching pitched to this line: 13.2 IP, 12 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 19 K, 2 HR, 2.63 ERA, 1.170 WHIP. The bullpen pitched to this line: 13.1 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 7 BB, 16 K, 2 HR, 2.03 ERA, 1.275 WHIP. Boone’s bullpen decisions, while not necessarily the most sound, all worked out. It was as close to a perfect ALDS as you could ask for, and because of that, it resulted in a sweep.
There should be an ALDS MVP. If teams are going to celebrate the way they do after winning the ALCS or World Series, then there should be an MVP for the ALDS as well. Torres was the ALDS MVP. He gave the Yankees the lead for good in Game 1 with his two-run double, and in Game 3, he set the tone and gave the Yankees the lead with his second-inning solo home run, prevented a rally with his sliding play in shallow right field and also added two doubles in the series-clinching win. After looking overmatched and overwhelmed in last year’s postseason, Torres batted .417/.462/.917 in this ALDS with three doubles, a home run and four RBIs. Again, he’s 22 years old.
As much as the bullpen can use these next four days off to rest for the ALCS, I can use these four days off to rest for the ALCS as well. Each postseason win means at least one more Yankees game for the season, and the ALDS win means at least four more Yankees games this season. There will be plenty of time to think about the ALCS, envision how it will play out, complain about the potential lineup and rotation and wonder how the Yankees are going to get back to the World Series for the first time in a decade. For now, it’s time to rest and celebrate an ALDS sweep.
Three down, eight to go.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!