Luis Severino
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Luis Severino, the young New York Yankees ace, must be exactly that and more against the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the ALDS.

Luis Severino did what he needed to do against the Oakland Athletics in the AL Wild Card. Going up against the hated Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the ALDS later tonight, he must be even better.

The New York Yankees are trusting the 24-year-old righty to let the home crowd fuel him and give the team a 2-1 series lead. That would put New York one win away from a second consecutive ALCS trip. Thus, the anticipation surrounding Game 3 is already through the roof.

Severino tossed four scoreless innings against Oakland, allowing just two hits and striking out seven. Those numbers are solid, but here’s the problem. Both hits were allowed in the top of the fifth inning and Severino threw 87 pitches. Only 53 were for strikes as he also walked four, with Oakland refusing to bite on his slider. He was lifted for Dellin Betances and the bullpen did the rest in New York’s 7-2 victory.

Now, Severino is tasked with shutting down a Boston lineup that led MLB in runs scored and batting average. The momentum of the series is on the line.

Simply put, for New York to win, Luis Severino has to pitch like the ace he was in the first half of the season.

An up and down season

For the first half of the 2018 season, Luis Severino looked untouchable. He was 14-2 with a 2.31 ERA at the All-Star Break and a near lock for the AL Cy Young. Hitters were flummoxed by his blazing fastball. His slider was borderline untouchable. More often than not, his changeup caught hitters looking.

Everything then changed. Severino went 0-3 with a 9.60 ERA in his first three starts after the All-Star Break. From July 23 through Sept. 5, he was 3-5 with a 5.78 ERA. The worst part is no one seemed to have an idea what was wrong. How did someone so young go from looking like Steve Nebraska in The Scout to Nuke LaLoosh early in Bull Durham? You know, before he just threw instead of thinking about pitching.

Was he tipping his pitches? Was he tired from all the innings thrown in 2017 up until July 2018? Maybe he was injured? TBS studio analyst and Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez said Severino was indeed pitching hurt. However, in a report by Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News, Severino denied Martinez’s claim:

“I don’t know where he got that, but I didn’t say nothing about I was hurt. If you hear that from Yankees staff or something like that, maybe you can believe it, but I don’t know where you get that from,” Severino said. “Like I always say, I care about my arm and being healthy. So I’m not going to go out there and compete if I’m not healthy.”

Whatever the reason, one thing is certain. The Severino that showed up for 11 horrific starts this summer cannot be the one that suits up for Game 3.

To beat Boston

The good news for the Yankees is the Red Sox do not have a lengthy history of dominating Luis Severino. However, nor does he have a knack for owning Boston. Severino is 4-6 with a 4.00 ERA in 13 career appearances (12 starts) against the Sox, so the history aspect is more or less a push.

Moreover, it can be argued the ERA, while not at all bad, is inflated. Severino was 0-2 with a 7.30 ERA against Boston in 2016 but has posted a mark of 3.48 since then. In that time, he has also shown dominance against Boston. He allowed just one run and struck out six in seven innings in a 10-1 win back on Sept. 19. He threw 6.2 shutout innings in an 11-1 victory on July 1.

Sure, Boston has twice dominated Severino this year, in a 14-1 win on April 10 and a 4-1 win on Aug. 3, but everything changes in the playoffs. If that velocity is up and the slider is biting, Boston’s need to be great is right up there with Severino’s.

Who shows up?

The good news is based on the Luis Severino fans saw in the AL Wild Card, the young righty looks back in top form. He posted a 2.09 ERA in his final three starts of the regular season and was locked in against Oakland last week.

His fastball velocity touched 100 mph once or twice. He was incredibly focused. He easily could have gone deep into the game if not for the walks. And, as was mentioned before, the walks weren’t even his fault. The A’s, in full Moneyball form, just didn’t bite on the slider and took their bases accordingly.

Boston, on the other hand, is more aggressive at the plate. That means as strong as Severino looked in the Wild Card, he must be even greater in Game 3. The Red Sox are tough, but Severino is a pitcher through and through. The Yankees made him their ace for situations just like this.

Luis Severino knows what he has to do tonight. Now, with only hours left until the first pitch, there’s only one thing left on his list.

Do it.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.