Divining the Numbers

Bronx, N.Y., July 26, 2017; Yankees 9, Cincinnati 5 — Had a fan, or any observer, at Wednesday afternoon’s Yankee game hosting the Cincinnati Reds in the Stadium, somehow divined what would be the announced attendance, it might have given them a hint as to how this one would go. Just think of the number that graced the back of the best Yankee pitcher — starter or reliever — of the last two decades, then visualize that number again, and then what rank Luis Severino holds in this year’s starting rotation: 42,421, or, 42 42 1.

Despite some late sloppy play — it easily could have been a 2-0 final — this was a dandy pitchers’ duel, with Severino once again dominating the opposition, and Cinncy’s Homer Bailey battling gamely, and keeping his team in the game. Sevy’s bĂȘte noire through six dominant frames was Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who gathered the only two hits and one of their two walks to that point, and forced the young righty to throw 20 pitches to him alone.

That Bailey’s problem was three-headed made all the difference, and was the factor that had him down 2-0 as the Yankees came to bat in the sixth. Both in the third and fifth innings, Homer coaxed two outs from the first two hitters in the inning, including inducing a double play grounder once Todd Frazier led off the third with a soft infield single, becoming (briefly) the first Yankee base runner of the day. But pesky second baseman Ronald Torreyes, the stubborn left fielder Brett Gardner, and the red-maned Clint Frazier each time reached him for consecutive singles, with Frazier driving in Torreyes with runs each time.

Otherwise Bailey displayed craft and skill in setting down the Yankees. He struck out none, and finally surrendered his lone walk in the seventh. But few hit balls hard, and he had thrown just 62 pitches to get through five, despite the double whammy of back-to-back-to-back one-base hits. Two errors in the sixth, and his own leadoff walk in the seventh led to him being charged with seven runs scored, five earned, but he deserved a better fate.

But not a win. For that he would have had to be facing a much lesser adversary. Every Reds player not named Votto appeared to stand no chance against Severino in this one. Establishing his fastball at 98 mph in the first, he would strike out two swinging in three of the first four innings, accumulating eight through six, and one more in the seventh when the Reds halved a 4-0 lead once shortstop Didi Gregorius bobbled a Scott Schebler leadoff, bad-hop grounder. But Luis used a killer slider and slipped in an occasional change to get 20 swings and misses. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 27 batters, had a scintillating 78/34 strikes-to-balls ratio, and twice came up with fine defensive plays, both against shortstop Jose Peraza, stretching for a hot shot to his right and throwing him out in the third and — more impressively — finishing his day, and the top of the seventh, with a bare-hand grab of a high hopper off the plate, with a hard peg to first that almost handcuffed Chase Headley. Three hits, two walks, and two (unearned) runs was all the visitors could muster through seven.

Peraza, aside from being victimized by a pitcher who is also quite an athlete, had a tough sixth inning in the field. With one down, he threw a Gregorius grounder into the hole into the Yankee dugout and, once the recently hard-hitting Headley promptly scored Didi with a single, failed to stay on the second-base bag on a hot shot to first, when Votto fired toward the outfield side, setting up a Torreyes rbi fielder’s choice grounder, though the error went to Votto. This ushered in the ugly part of this game, as Cinncy plated two unearned runs in the seventh and, following a five-run Yankee seventh on a homer from Gregorius, and the first such Yankee blast from Todd Frazier, the Reds scored on a three-run Adam Duvall homer off Luis Cessa. This came after catcher Gary Sanchez could not block a strike three wild pitch to Scooter Gennett, and Cessa walked Votto (who thereby reached on all four plate appearances on the day).

It is perhaps fitting that the attendance figure, announced in the eighth inning during a gorgeous afternoon seemingly custom-made for baseball, brought all-world retired closer Mariano Rivera to mind, because Luis’s route to his current status has been a circuitous one. After an impressive rotation debut in 2015, Severino struggled mightily in that role last year, and some late-season success relieving had many wondering what job he was best suited for. On August 3, 2016, for instance, he came in for a gassed Chad Green in the fourth inning of what would be a game settled by a score identical to today’s, 9-5 over the crosstown New York Mets. Luis allowed a lone hit while striking out five in 4.33 frames.

But thankfully, as it turns out, the Yankee braintrust stuck with their original assessment, and kept Luis in the rotation, even if it was at the very end of Spring Training that he was assigned the No. 5 spot, behind impressive rookie southpaw Jordan Montgomery. And with a season-ending injury to Michael Pineda, a DL stint from CC Sabathia (who has been a rock both before and after the injury), and struggles from titular ace Masahiro Tanaka, Severino has been earning praise, and higher numbers, all season, with few missteps. An All Star who would have been in the game if ex-Yank Robinson Cano hadn’t ended it after 10, he is undoubtedly the guy teams facing the Yankees fear the most as this wonderfully exciting year in the AL East unfolds. He is undoubtedly the Yankee ace, no matter how you …

Divine the Numbers