One Small Step

Bronx, N.Y., August 5, 2015; Red Sox 2, Yankees 1 —Yankee fans learned the painful lesson yet again Wednesday night that when the team is facing a knuckleballer pitcher, all bets are off. Thirty-year-old journeyman Steven Wright dominated what had been red-hot Yankee bats for eight innings, and walked off with a 2-1 victory for his trouble. I like to think I’ve matured a bit about losses to the Red Sox, but why did he have to do so well when my new kid was making his debut?

Adding to the pain of Luis Severino’s loss was that it should have been a no decision. Wright surrendered a singleton home run, just as Severino had — even if the Boston flutterballer’s came two innings after the 21-year-old Yankee phenom left the game — what we witnessed should have been a 1-1 final, if not for the unearned run Boston scored in the second. What was all set to be the sixth straight out to start Luis’s game became a Mike Napoli grounder to third that Chase Headley threw past first for a two-base error. Three pitches later, a double off the bullpen wall drove in a run for a 1-0 Sox lead.

It was the first of just two hits Severino would surrender, and the miscue hurt him further in that what should have been a 16-pitch inning was extended nine more throws. By most parameters, a five-inning start featuring no walks, just two hits, and only one earned run is a smash, over-the-top result. But rather than lament the loss in such a promising debut, let’s look at things that were less than ideal in Severino’s performance. And pitch count has to be No. 1. Two 25-pitch frames drove him to 94 pitches through five. But the tendency to miss with first pitches and the six 3-ball counts played at least as big a part in the fast accumulating number as the second-inning error.

When the count to Hanley Ramirez, leading off the second, went full, Luis had thrown 22 pitches, an unacceptable 11 of them off the plate. From that point on, the ratio improved, but not dramatically, and the final 59/35 breakdown was good, not great. Further, after throwing four first-pitch strikes to the Sox nine the first time through, Luis missed on his first offering to the next eight batters. One of these was the fourth-inning at bat of DH David Ortiz, against whom Severino went 2-0 in back-to-back at bats. Ortiz took a strike before grounding out on a great play by Steven Drew in the first, but he didn’t take the second 2-0 pitch. it became a 400-foot drive to right, good for a 2-0 lead for the visitors. The Yanks would never catch up.

But Severino did show poise, and plenty of it. His 96-mph heat with a number of dynamite sliders is what kept seven of nine opponents from collecting hits against him. He retired each of the six batters that extended him to a three-ball count, two of them on swinging strike outs. The kid showed grit, determination, and the love of a good battle, traits that should serve him well. The throws he featured were plus pitches, all but the ballyhooed change of pace, which was largely missing. That he performed so well with just two of his weapons is another good sign. Aside from striking out seven (on 10 swings and misses after just two in innings one and two) he forced three popups and five ground-ball outs. The grounders should work well with solid Yankee infield defense, the disturbing occasional Headley miscue notwithstanding. The only fly balls — the double and the home run— produced the runs.

Once Luis left, Adam Warren turned in a terrific, two-strike-out, three innings; then Chasen Shreve struggled through a 30-pitch, bases-loaded, scoreless ninth. But given the extra time, the Yankee offense continued to sputter. Wright, who walked two early with a passed ball that looked like a wild pitch, offered no more free passes, and he threw no-hit ball until Didi Gregorius and John Ryan Murphy collected singles in the home fifth. Once Carlos Beltran narrowed the gap with a deep homer to right in the seventh, the eighth showed promise, as Murphy led off with another single. To this point the struggling Jacoby Ellsbury had not only struck out all three times; he had fouled off just one pitch in doing so. But he followed Murphy with a hard grounder up the middle. That it glanced off Wright could have been a lucky break, though it may have been a hit untouched. But its course changed and brought it right to shortstop Xander Bogaert, who turned a quick double play, and the last slim chance against Wright was gone.

The Bombers reached closer Kei Uehara for a single, wild pitch and walk in the ninth, but a Beltran fly to center, and one from pinch-hitting Brian McCann, ended the threat. August 5, 2015, would have been the 85th birthday of astronaut and hero Neil Armstrong, if he hadn’t died three years ago. For this reason, I’m calling Severino’s first major league start,

One Small Step