Viewpoint Severino over Happ? Aaron Boone secure in his wild-card decision

October 2, 2018

NEW YORK — Either way, he’s Aaron “Bleepin’ ” Boone. If the Yankees take care of their one-game wild-card business against the A’s, if Luis Severino’s stuff is as electric as the October Bronx night, Boone will ride the emotional wave into Boston.

That’s where Boone, like Bucky Dent, is best known by his middle name. As he sat there Tuesday on the 40th anniversary of Dent’s classic home run at Fenway Park, Boone also knew that if Severino gets tattooed like he did in last year’s wild-card game against the Twins, the story will have nothing to do with the Red Sox, nothing to do with Boston and the ALDS.

He’ll be Aaron “Bleepin’ ” Boone all right. Right here in New York.

Can’t you hear it already? “Why didn’t you start J.A. Happ? He was the sure bet!” After being acquired from Toronto, he was the Yankees’ best starter the last two months. He beat the A’s on Sept. 4, allowed only one run and two hits over seven innings. On four days’ rest, he was right on schedule. Did Boone forget what happened last wild card with Severino? Did he forget that abomination with Severino on Sept. 5 in Oakland? Happ was the no-brainer!

Boone’s hapless, am I right?

“I’m really excited to give (Severino) the ball,” Boone said. “I feel like after some bumps in the road the second half of the season, he has turned a corner and really started to throw the ball better. I think he’s ready for this. He’ll be pitching on plenty of rest.”

Seven days of rest. Severino allowed two runs in five innings against Tampa Bay on Sept. 25 to complete an uneven 19-8, 3.38 ERA, 220-strikeout season.

“It means a lot,” Severino said. “It means that they trust me.”

The decision was made after the Yankees met as a staff Saturday night. General manager Brian Cashman went to Boston, where the team was completing its 100-win regular season. Everybody talked it through, Boone said. Performance, experience, stuff. Everything.

“A lot of guys had input and reasons why one way or the other,” Boone said. “I took all that information and slept on it.”

Boone woke up Sunday and decided it was Severino. Not Happ. Not Masahiro Tanaka. Boone let the world know at 12:16 p.m. Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, surprising many, 32 hours before Severino goes to the mound to try to make amends for his 2017 wild-card disaster.

By the time former manager Joe Girardi went out with the hook, Severino had allowed three runs on four hits and only got one out. If not for Chad Green stranding Twins on second and third, if not for Didi Gregorius’ three-run homer in the bottom of the first, that Bronx night would have disintegrated into no October run to Game 7 of the ALCS.

“I think I was too excited,” Severino said.

“Sevy struggled obviously in that game, but I also look at it as one game,” Boone said. “He’s uniquely positioned as a young man in this game that has experienced a lot. He’s equipped in so many ways to handle this, and perhaps most importantly he’s equipped with amazing stuff to dominate big league hitters.”

The Yankees are carrying Happ, Tanaka and Lance Lynn among 10 pitchers for this game. They’re girding for all scenarios: good, bad and one-third of an inning ugly. Gary — “Score that a passed ball, Suzyn” — Sanchez will catch Severino. The Yankees will dress three catchers, again, girding for all scenarios.

One day after Happ pitched so well in Oakland on Sept. 4, Severino allowed six runs, five earned, in 2 2/3 innings against the A’s. The first inning was a horror show. Two Severino wild pitches. Two Sanchez passed balls.

“Miscommunication between us,” Severino said. “We didn’t set the right signs and stuff like that. We talked about it. We figured it out. After that, I think everything was great.”

“Those two are very close,” Boone said. “So sometimes some of the things they get into that have been seen are just two passionate guys. They’re like brothers in a lot of ways. I am confident that they are in a good place, will be on the same page.”

Happ was 7-0 with a 2.62 ERA and an outstanding 1.03 WHIP in the second half. After a Cy Young-worthy first half in which he was 14-2 with a 2.12 ERA, Severino finished 5-6, 5.57 ERA.

This probably is where you expect me to rip Boone’s decision as a lousy one. To remind everyone this isn’t Boone driving a Tim Wakefield knuckler into baseball immortality in the 2003 ACLS. That this is a rookie manager, who won only eight fewer games than rookie manager Alex Cora’s historic ride in Boston yet is eight times dumber.

You would expect wrong. It’s a good call. Yes, there’s an element of risk-reward. Yet Severino is 10-2 with a 2.74 ERA at Yankee Stadium, including a six-inning start of one earned run against the A’s in May. More importantly, he has won his last two starts and has a 2.04 ERA over 17 2/3 innings in his last three starts.

And most importantly of all? Oh, looking at one game, Boone wouldn’t touch this publicly: The Yankees’ best chance for world championship No. 28, their best chance against the Red Sox in the ALDS, is to line Happ against Chris Sale in Game 1 and a decisive Game 5 at Fenway Park. Happ is particularly tough in Boston where he is 4-2 with a 2.91 ERA in his career.

The bonus is that if Severino, only 24, is electric against the A’s, he can ride that momentum into October.

“He’s not an easy at-bat, I’ll tell you,” teammate Giancarlo Stanton said of Severino. “You guys can say what you want … but I wouldn’t want to be in there against him.”

“You guys know me: I can have trouble and the next start I can be good,” Severino said. “I was missing my spots, a couple fastballs and sliders, but the last three or four outings, the command, changeup and the slider have been good.”

The fastball? Severino smiled.

“My pitch,” he said.

The Yankees will have their bullpen ready. Heck, the A’s will go all bullpen. Liam Hendriks went so far as to call himself an “opener,” not a starter. Severino is a starter. If he’s right, he’s an ace.

“He has dealt with massive success and struggles,” Boone said. “He has dealt with going to the bullpen (in 2016). He’s dealt with things this year. With Sevy turning the corner and I believe pitching his best, he’ll be the best pitcher on the field tomorrow.”

Boone likes to say that the pressure of managing the Yankees is a privilege. Banking on the right arm of Luis Severino, he will be the most privileged man in the Bronx on Wednesday night.

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123

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