An old October nemesis resurfaced to remind the almost-unbeatable Yankees that it isn’t going to be so easy in the postseason.
In a pitcher’s duel built for a bigger stage than a June Friday night in The Bronx, Justin Verlander bested Luis Severino, stopped the Yankees’ 15-game home winning streak and helped his Astros recover from an emotional roundhouse by sending the Yankees to a 3-1 loss.
Verlander allowed just four hits and a walk over seven innings in front of the third sellout crowd and the highest-paid attendance (47,528) of the season.
Not that it was surprising to see vintage Verlander (9-3) in his first start against the Yankees since the 2019 ALCS. The two-time Cy Young Award winner — bidding for a third with his 2.22 ERA and 0.87 WHIP this season — pitched six total innings over the previous two seasons due to injury and Tommy John surgery, but the Yankees still entered the Verlander sweepstakes when he was a free agent last December.
“It hasn’t been, ‘Let’s see how it goes.’ It’s been Verlander,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before the game. “Hall of Famer still pitching at that level. I could say we’re surprised, but not really. I know our interest level in the offseason and he’s gone out and pitched like an ace for them.”
Booed during introductions by fans who haven’t forgotten he was part of the sign-stealing Astros in 2017, Verlander didn’t allow a runner past second base until Giancarlo Stanton’s solo home run with one out in the bottom of the sixth. There was no carryover from the Yankees’ four-run, ninth-inning rally Thursday to steal a win. Their biggest “threat” before Stanton’s homer amounted to putting two on with two out in the second inning.
Verlander is 4-1 with a 2.75 ERA in eight career playoff starts against the Yankees for the Tigers and Astros combined. If he starts against the Yankees in this year’s playoffs (they own the two best records in the American League to date), Severino (4-2) is one of many possibilities the Yankees could call on to counter him.
As was the case with Verlander, all of the damage against Severino was done on one pitch. Stanton’s home run came with the bases empty, but Kyle Tucker smacked a three-run shot in the sixth inning. Game over, essentially, though the Yankees brought the potential winning to the plate in both the eighth and ninth innings.
Severino was at his best after allowing a double and a single to start the fifth inning. With runners on the corners, he struck out Jason Castro, Aledmys Diaz and Jose Altuve consecutively to hold the scoreless tie. It was the second straight inning in which the Astros stranded two.
When the first-base umpire punched out Altuve for not checking his swing, Severino fiercely pumped his arms as he walked off the mound. Of course, that was probably the kindest treatment that The Bronx’s No. 1 villain received Friday, considering he once again was booed loudly during pregame introductions and before every at-bat — customary ever since the Astros’ trash-can-banging, sign-stealing scandal came to light.
There was no such luck in the sixth, though. Tucker’s homer made Severino pay for walking Yordan Alvarez after Alex Bregman doubled with one out.
Severino retired the first 10 hitters he faced and finished with a quality start, striking out seven and walking two on 95 pitches.